What feels like a lifetime ago, at a point in my evolution where I was a little bit lost, I wandered upon a fine arts course at the Academy of Art, San Francisco, entitled, “Figure Drawing.”
I, having never drawn a figure in my life other than your basic stickies, found myself in a room full of artists attempting to sketch the form of a naked man perched upon a block stand.
The experience solidified in me what I hadn’t yet grasped; that art (artists and artistry) in all forms was my passion. And while I never could quite get my drawings to look balanced (or at all like a naked man on a stand), I was so moved by the experience that I signed up for a full semester of art classes, resulting in a Fine Arts degree in 1996.
As a kid, I was the kind of child who wasn’t really very good at any one thing. I struggled in school to maintain a C average, and often found myself wondering what I could ever do in my life that would allow me to be successful. In retrospect, it was the arts that sustained me when I sometimes felt I wasn’t good enough. Or smart enough. And my experience at Art School taught me a great deal more about myself, which helped me form who I am today.
When I was recently contacted by the auction house and website invaluable.com and asked to write about kids and art for Youth Art Month, it was something I believe strongly enough to happily pencil into my schedule. invaluable.com is an advocate for all forms of artwork whether it be children’s paintings or classic fine art.
It was as a mother, writer, art lover, and believer in the arts that I accepted the offer.
Exposure to art begins at a very early age, and many people know that such exposure helps to develop the right side of the brain. We’ve all heard of child therapists using art to help children express themselves when they often don’t have the cognitive word skills to do so. Kids, especially, haven’t yet developed the internal self-filter that judges their work. It’s pure, in this sense. And wonderful.
But there are other reasons that exposure to art at an early age can benefit our kids, and I believe are just as important for their future development.
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Allows for Critical Thinking
Last night my daughters walked into my room as I was watching the Salma Hayek film, Frida. While not a movie made for children, knowing the importance of Frida Khalo to the art world (and to me, personally), I let them hover as the story unfolded.
Questions began to be asked.
“Why did she cut her hair off and paint herself in men’s clothes?”
“How come her eyebrows look like that?
“Why are they tearing down that man’s art work?”
The discussion of who Frida was as a person and how her art reflected her life became an outlet for my daughter’s critical thinking.
“She was sad, and in frustration or anger she chopped off her own hair. Her painting represented how she was feeling. I’m not sure why she wore men’s clothes, but maybe it was because she felt like it represented her mood? Maybe she thought it made her look stronger than she really felt?”
“Frida is almost as famous for her eyebrows as she is for her art. It’s not often that we see a woman with eyebrows that touch in the middle, is it? What do you think of that? Isn’t it cool that she was different, and that she was also so talented!”
“The work they’re tearing down is that of another artist named Diego. The people he was painting the mural for didn’t like it, so they destroyed it. Wouldn’t you be mad? Do you blame him for yelling out in anger?”
The discussion around the film and the art made them think and ask relevant questions. My opinion matters, but so does theirs. A discussion about personal expression, the appearance of someone who looked different, and the rights of expression versus payment for a job were not on my agenda as lessons for the day. The best lessons usually are not.
2. Creates an Understanding of Self
While young children who create art are innocently expressing themselves, for older children the exposure to all kinds of art helps them build opinions of self that couldn’t be formulated otherwise.
Take for example my experience as a child of a mother who valued the arts herself. As a kid I was fortunate to be taken to museums. Wandering through I would pick out pieces that I liked. And we’d talk about why or why not I felt the way I did. These experiences helped formulate my own ideas of what I found beautiful, and not. My mother was a fan of fashion, and so my days of being able to see fashion as an art became one of the reasons that my love for such design exists and has grown with me.
Being exposed to creative thinkers at the Elementary schools I attended helped me to recognize artistic endeavors in other areas not always valued as “art.”
It was in school that I began to recognize that teaching I was an art form in itself. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Clark, who had an energetic and loving way to pass information to her students became the very person I conjured when I grew up and became a teacher with a classroom of my own.
It was exposure to the arts that allowed me to formulate ideas of myself, though I didn’t recognize this at the time. I wanted to teach in a way that inspired. My passion for being passionate about all the things I do was born thanks to the adults around me who let me see the parts of themselves that I had in me, too. As an adult it is my hope to expand on this philosophy making it clear to my own kids that what they feel about a piece of work or a person’s talent says a lot about who they are, and what makes them great.
3. Knowing Your Medium Teaches A Lot About You
A part of the exploration of the artistic self is the discovery of mediums.
In art school I learned quickly that chalk and pencil were not my favorite, but a flat paint called gouache, and paint pens with different tips were wonderful (you never know until you try). Pattern making and draping on fashion figures were fun and exciting, but sewing required more skill than was inherent to me (despite many hours at the machines). As kids are exposed to different mediums they build skills, sometimes with success, other times failing miserably. Both are important parts in the discovery of art, self, and knowledge.
4. Builds an Appreciation for Embracing What’s Different
Let’s face it. In today’s world there’s not a lot of appreciation for what’s different. It’s getting better with the movement toward body positivity and the embrace of individual freedoms, but for a long time (especially when I was growing up in the 80’s; the age of Super Models and over-abundance equating to value) being different wasn’t seen as a plus.
Today, when my kids are bombarded with images in the media they are able to point out the differences and see what makes those differences so special or unique.
Banksy is a good example of an artist who creates his work for the people, with the funds from the sale not going to him directly. This is a very different way for an artist to express himself, and his belief that art is for the people. Of course there are people who don’t agree with that statement (or his talent). And that’s okay, too.
5. Builds an Understanding of History as It Pertains to Today
A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was one of the first places I discovered that art is as old as the ages. Head right, into the museum catacombs where the mummies now lie, and chipped bowls and partitions of etched stone are the living reminders of a world that no longer exists.
Did I, and do I love ancient Egyptian art? Not so much. But my appreciation of the history expanded my appreciation of all art.
In college, when I’d finished my figure drawing class and moved onto other courses such as the Fashion History, and even Perspective Drawing where lines on buildings were examined, I learned the foundation for modern day fashions, and sky scraper building. Why weren’t ankles shown pre-Victorian era? How come buildings in the sixties looked so different from those built before? Knowing our art history gives us a better understanding of why things are the way they are today.
5. Opens Eyes to Beauty, Talent, Pain, and Life
Not everything in life is always as we want it to be. Sometimes the things we see make us feel emotions that we aren’t comfortable with, but that teach us lessons we wouldn’t learn otherwise. By allowing children to form opinions about the art that they see, create, like and dislike, we are teaching them about life in itself.
Back to Frida.
As my kids watched the film, which fades between images of her work juxtaposed against the experiences in her life, they could see that the reason for the troubling painting of a bleeding Frida on the bed correlated to a visit to the hospital. Her self-portraits often painted with flowers atop her head were examples of how she presented herself, and what she found beautiful.
The discussions can go on and on when we begin to speak about such things. And for all children, exposing them to the art all around gives them a basis for which they can begin to see the beauty, talent, sometimes sadness and pain that happens in every human life.
Visit Invaluable.com’s Fine Arts page for ongoing auctions, and participate in the discussion by sharing what you find!
The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo.