One of the things my parents did well was instill in me a love of the arts. As I've grown older, my love of the arts has broadened from what started with music to include sculpture, painting, musical theater, plays, and more. This weekend, I had the privilege of taking my oldest son to see the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas perform La Boheme and Also Sprach Zarathustra. He had a blast and so did I. It got me thinking about what my parents did and what I've done to instill a love of the arts, and why it's important to do so. Let's start there.
It's a scientific fact that music stimulates the brain in some amazing ways. The University of Southern California (among other institutions) has done a lot of research into this phenomenon. They've found that music causes children's brains to develop faster and boost decision-making capabilities. Other studies have found that music and dance can help children develop their social-emotional skills. Researchers have discovered a link between music education and general intelligence. This is reason enough for me to want my children hearing and learning music, but there's more.
Let's face it - this world can be an ugly place. In the last several months our family has endured extreme sickness in our youngest son. There have been mass shootings in schools. There are bullies and threats of war almost every day, and to think our kids aren't paying attention to these things is naive. But aside from the beauty of the gospel there is only one other thing that I can think of that retains beauty in this world - art. After hours of dealing with the ugliness of vomit and blood, tests and surgeries, I could always go down to the hospital chapel for prayer and piano. After reading headline after headline of ugly pointless deaths and detestable conflict, art remains beautiful. I want my children to know that there is still beauty in the world - that the works of Brahams and Mahler, Van Gogh and Da Vinci don't change with the seasons of life.
Here are some things I've done and that my parents did to instill a love of the arts.
1. Exposure, exposure, exposure. You've got to expose your children to the arts if you expect them to love the arts. You've got to be careful - the arts can have their dark, cursing, pornographic, and heavy sides that aren't appropriate for children (some of which aren't appropriate for adults either), but you've got to find appropriate means of exposing them to the arts. An orchestra concert is a great way to start because there aren't usually words, if there are they are in a foreign language (which also has its benefits), and most of the time there aren't naked people or cursing involved.
2. Emotional Connection. I frequently finding myself asking my son how a particular piece of art makes him feel, how he thinks the artist felt, or how the person portrayed in a painting seems to feel. This can help develop empathy for others. It can foster an emotional self-awareness. And of course, it can promote a love for a particular piece of art by establishing an emotional connection with it.
3. Experience Broadly. We're doing everything we can not to limit our kids to music. We are so fortunate to have an art museum close by that they visit a couple of times a year. We do have to be on the alert as there can be some nudes at the museum, but there are also a lot of kid friendly exhibits. We've taken our kids to see age appropriate plays and musicals. We're so fortunate to have the Walton Arts Center so close where there are tons of kid-friendly shows.
4. Engage Broadly. At the same time, we want our kids to not just experience broadly but to engage broadly. Venues like Painting With A Twist have kid-friendly opportunities to paint. Our local art museum has similar classes and opportunities from time to time. Fortunately, we live in a place where art education is still available in the schools. There are ample places to get piano lessons, string lessons, drum lessons, wind lessons, voice lessons, and so much more. Church is a great place to develop a singing voice. All of these are ways in which we try to get our kids to engage with the arts in hopes that they'll grow to love it.
5. Etiquette Matters. Make a big deal of the event. Dress up. Tonight was a great time to teach my some some basics like only buttoning one button of your suit jacket, unbuttoning it when you sit down, buttoning it when you stand up, clapping for the concert master, clapping for the conductor, and so forth. I really think tonight will be memorable for my son because we made it a matter of pomp and circumstance.
Josh Bryant is a patron of the arts, especially the musical arts. He also plays piano and composes as he has the chance. On this blog, you'll see posts about the arts, performance videos, reviews, concerts and productions in Northwest Arkansas, and more.