Art For Baltimore Youngsters
Exposing young children to culture
Rona Sue London
When her three children were growing up, Karla Schulman, a kindergarten teacher at Krieger Schechter Day School, would talk to them about art. She’d discuss the angry paint splatters of artist Jackson Pollack or the fun colors of Piet Mondrian’s “Boardwalk Boogie Woogie.” She would take them on museum trips — often thinking about what they would see, then researching those artists and the time periods in which he or she lived.
When they were looking at art, Karla would tell them a story and then ask open-ended questions about what they saw in the work. This encouraged her children to look closer.
Her middle child, Andy, 35, remembers that he was a very active child and not always “the best learner.” But those experiences have in some ways helped determine his career path.
Today, Andy lives in Boulder, Colo., and works at an advertising agency. On the side, he creates lighting fixtures from found objects.
“My parents recognized early on that I needed to find something to calm me down,” he recalls. “I loved to create and make things with my hands. They did everything possible to foster my talents through art books, materials and museum trips. I felt totally supported by them.”
The arts provide a unique way of looking at and experiencing the world. Paintings, plays, music, literature, films and dance are a universal language. There is something beyond words that happens when you listen to a beautiful piece of music, see a play, read a wonderful book, or look at a work of glorious art.
The differences are vast between reading a textbook on war and seeing first-hand the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., between studying the Holocaust and seeing “Schindler’s List,” between talking about the science of how our eyes work to blend color and looking at Monet’s Water Lily paintings.
If we believe that life is more than learning how to add and subtract, decode grammar and memorize dates, it is crucial that we expose them to beauty that gives context to the world.
“I want to raise multi-faceted men who are strong in body and mind,” says Natalie Ozga, 44, mother of three sons. She sets aside time for Barrett, 13, Benjamin, 11, and Jacob, 7, to play sports but also says, “I make certain we have lots of open-ended time to allow them to be creative, even though each child’s creativity takes its own form.”
Jacob and Barrett both take piano lessons but Jacob takes lessons with a Russian instructor with classical training, while Barrett takes lessons at Dorsey Twins Studio with African-American twins who have a more modern approach. “I believe the arts are important because they force you to expand your mind in different directions,” Natalie says.
Dena Cohen, 23, dance instructor at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, sees dance as a way to access imagination and feelings. She believes that movement reaches students who might not necessarily shine in an academic setting.
“Dance is a way you can integrate many learning styles and reach lots of children. The freedom of expression gives students an opportunity to be creative. Students who sit in the back of a traditional classroom are often leaders that stand out in the studio.”
“The arts are what it is all about. It is the ability to do more than regurgitate information; it teaches children to assimilate their learning. Creativity and imagination will be instrumental in solving society’s challenges,” says Gigi Lepski, art teacher at The Day School at Baltimore Hebrew.
The Wilcox family, Rob, Debbie and their three children, have made the arts a priority. Rob, 44, builds and designs exhibits for The Smithsonian. Rob believes in inundating children with art, saying, “In our house, we have music playing all of the time. We show them the wonders of art, music, drama.”
The oldest son, Avi, 12, grew up watching his father sketch and as soon as he could hold a pencil, Rob put paper in front of him.
“I think the most important thing is to introduce kids to the arts as often as possible in as many ways as possible,” he says.
He also believes that art is everywhere: in architecture, billboards, postage stamps and cereal boxes. He suggests talking with your kids about anything that strikes you as interesting.
Begin by looking at the color, size or shapes in a piece, he explains. Next explore how it makes you feel and try to figure out why it has that effect and why the artist or designer made those choices.
Pop culture is another good place to begin. When the Wilcox’s noticed that Avi loved cartoons, they pulled up classic Disney films, old Warner Brothers shorts and “Scooby Doo” episodes that were hand drawn and had an element of storytelling.
Even video games can expose youngsters to the world of art. Recently, Rob has been working on displays for “The Art of Video Games,” a new exhibit that opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on March 16.
“Video games use painting, music, storytelling, sculpture, cinematography and writing to reach a huge audience. The creative process is inherent in this relatively new medium and it is the perfect way to introduce boys in particular to the idea that art isn’t just paintings on the walls of a museum,” he says.
Experts contend that the best thing you can do to enjoy the arts is to do it as a family. Becky Mossing, 41, has 8-year-old twin girls. She also is the musical theater teacher and program manager for the theater department at the Baltimore School for the Arts and the co-director for the Hippodrome Foundation summer theater camp.
Mossing makes certain that her girls have many opportunities to express themselves through dancing, singing and, most importantly, creative play, using their imaginations. She always has all kinds of art supplies readily available and the family often goes to Toby’s Dinner Theater and Baltimore School for the Arts family performances.
Even if you are not comfortable in an art museum or a symphony hall, there are resources that can help you introduce your children to the arts. Emily Blumenthal, manager of family programs at The Walters Art Museum, says it is essential to expose children to cultural experiences in their formative years.
“We want the family to learn about the world, culture and history through themes and activities that are fun and age-appropriate,” she says.
Art’s The Thing
1. Surround children with inexpensive art supplies, music, instruments, books, puppets and costumes.
2. When children bring home a piece of art work or perform in a play, ask questions and offer support.
3. Go to a museum, but plan before you go — find out why Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear or where the knights in shining armor are located at the Walters Art Museum. Pick a Saturday and go to the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower to see artists at work in their studios.
4. Participate in musical activities as a family. Listen to music in the house and car. Make homemade instruments or buy inexpensive ones for kids to play. Check out the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Family Concerts or summer concerts at Oregon Ridge.
5. Catch a live show specifically for children. Jimi Kinstle, producing artistic director of Pumpkin Theatre, suggests finding a story in which your child is interested and explaining what he or she will see so there are no surprises (as when Charlotte dies at the end of a
recent performance of “Charlotte’s Web”). Be open to frank discussions.
6. Blast tunes, tap feet, clap hands and jump up and down. Play freeze dance to any music that moves you. Venture out to Boordy Vineyards, Ladew Topiary Gardens or concerts in Patterson Park to dance to swing, tango, Mo-town or bluegrass music.
7. Visit local libraries at story time. Attend the Baltimore Book Festival in September to meet well-known authors and illustrators. Read an Edgar Allan Poe poem and visit his grave for a spooky treat.
8. See a film at The Senator or at an outdoor venue like Little Italy, Village of Cross Keys or Films on the Pier in Fells Point. Pack up the car and go to Benjies Drive-In Theater.