Young at Art

by Jane Lavino
This article was originally published in PCJH’s Winter 2023 Pinnacle, “Seeing God in the Arts”

When our daughter was just two years old, my husband and I took her with us to the University of Wyoming Art Museum to see a traveling exhibition. On display were some works by the famous French sculptor, August Rodin. Rodin created many fabulous bronze sculptures, including The Thinker in 1904. We walked into the museum’s large gallery and stopped in our tracks, stunned by what we saw. Arranged before us were at least a dozen exceptional masterpieces by this famous, impressionist sculptor. Our toddler walked straight up to one of the sculptures, a huge composition of abstracted forms. She stood still in front of it, staring intently. As I approached the sculpture, all I could make out, at first, were massive oblong shapes and sinuous curves. Upon closer inspection, I saw the figure of a reclining female nude with a baby cradled in her arms. Our daughter was absolutely transfixed. I imagined she might be reminiscing about breast-feeding in her infancy, or feeling the emotions of the mother-child bond that was the essence of this piece. After a long while, I approached her and reverently whispered “What do you think?” She turned to me, and joyfully exclaimed “Doggie!”

 “So much for my lofty imaginings!” I thought; “She’s way too young to appreciate this exhibit.” Then I began to think differently. There are many ways to enjoy art. There is no wrong way. Everyone likes something different for different reasons. This sculpture had spoken to her, and she was delighted by it. That’s valid. Art gives us an experience like no other; a chance to connect, use our imaginations, explore perceptions, feelings and new thoughts. Museums provide space for this. Should you bring a two-year-old to a Rodin exhibition? Absolutely!

Try it. Take a child to an art museum. Ask them what they like and tell them what you like. Ask them what they think is going on in the art, or how it makes them feel. This can lead to a free-flowing dialogue that can be hard to come by in the day-to-day busyness of life. You might start the conversation: “I like this sculpture because, to me, it looks like a mother and her child. It reminds me of when you were little and we used to snuggle in bed reading books before you fell asleep at night.” “It makes me feel happy and warm inside.”

That’s the thing about life. It is infinitely richer when it is filled with art. Intentionally surround yourself with all kinds of art: visual arts, music, theater, dance, and film. Visit places where you can step out of your everyday routines in order to expand your imagination.  We are creative beings made in the image of a creative God. We must support, encourage and sustain creativity in ourselves and others in order to feel complete. And while you’re at it, strive to be a producer of art, not just a consumer of what others create.

I have spent my entire career working in the arts, first as a school art teacher, and more recently as an art museum educator. I make art myself, and have mentored a few young artists over the years. Here are some surefire tips for encouraging young artists to become lifelong artists and art lovers:

  • Bring children to a variety of art places and events: museums, gallery walks, art fairs, and artist demonstrations.
  • Introduce them to artists you know, both historical and contemporary. Introduce them, in-person, to artists in your community.
  • Provide good quality art materials and art instruction so they can develop their skills and creativity. 
  • Finally, on back-to-school night, visit the art room and talk with the art teacher (hardly anyone does). This will show your child that you value the arts as much as any other subject in school.

Most importantly, share your joy and curiosity as you learn alongside your child. Paint together, side-by-side. Hang art in your home together, including some of your child’s artwork. Scientific studies have proven what I know to be true: art delivers a multitude of benefits that improve our health, our success, and our lives!

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