Introduce Fine Arts The Frigging Idiot Way

April 17th, 2011 by Dionna | 17 Comments
Posted in Adults, Children, Eclectic Learning, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlers

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“You’re a frigging idiot.”

That’s what the guy behind us said. He spoke so loudly that two rows of concert-goers heard it. He didn’t even wait until the intermission to announce he considered us boorish.

I’m still not sure what upset him so much. My seven-year-old daughter had begged to attend what she called a “real performance” after enjoying a number of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Musical Rainbows concerts for young children. Nearly every day since she’d been three years old she put on recordings such as Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf / Narrated by Patrick Stewart, Opera de Lyon, Nagano , Song of the Unicorn, and Mr. Bach Comes to Call. Sometimes she played, sometimes she danced but mostly she drew pictures as she listened to compelling music woven around stories.

Photo Credit: ~samuka

Going together to the concert was a rare night out for the two of us but I knew her three brothers weren’t as entranced by classical music. So that evening she and I dressed up, taking our eagerness to velvety seats not far from the stage. As the concert hall filled, many people greeted us kindly. The musicians began to tune up and my daughter nodded at me. She knew this was her cue to be quiet until intermission.

Then the man behind us arrived. He squeezed past others, sat down and said aloud, “Oh no.” Because he exhaled so repeatedly and in such an exaggerated manner, I wondered if he’d sat on something awful. Nope, the something awful was us.

Just as the conductor lifted his baton, the man behind us leaned forward as if to whisper, but his hissed words weren’t quiet at all. He said, “I paid good money for this seat. Your kid better not wreck it.” Then he muttered “idiot” under his breath. I turned around to look at him, more surprised than annoyed, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was glaring hatefully at my beautiful child.

The performance started and my daughter was enraptured. At times she looked over at me, squeezed my hand or leaned her head against me. Sometimes her hands floated just above her lap as if carried by sound. I paid close attention, hoping to hold the whole experience in my memory.

As the applause died down after the first piece the man behind us started sighing in exasperation. And he kept it up. I tried to notice what might have been bothering him. My daughter didn’t speak, didn’t hum along. She simply adored the music. But when the man started bumping my seat I turned my head just enough to look at him. He was still glaring at my child. For reasons of his own he was fed up. He looked at me and said loudly, “You’re a frigging idiot.

The moment intermission began he stomped off and didn’t return. I hoped he’d find some peace despite possession by keep-children-out-of-concert-halls demons. But I’m no saint, I was pretty thrilled he left.

The woman next to my daughter assured us we weren’t the problem. An elderly gentleman at the end of our row, an orchestra patron for thirty years, said he hoped to see more children who loved classical music. By the time the musicians filed back some people had chatted with my daughter, happy to learn about her specific knowledge of that evening’s program. Others said, quite tactfully, that it was rare to see youngsters attend an evening concert.

A common perception is revealed by this experience. Fine arts and eager children don’t go together.

It’s not just one guy convinced the presence of a kid will ruin his evening. Most people set the arts aside as something special, or worse, something for those who really know what they’re reading/seeing/hearing.

To me that’s the sort of separatist thinking that keeps fine arts in the underfunded, under appreciated realm where nearly extinct things go to die. But that’s how they’re introduced to most young people. Arts are imposed using the old “eat this spinach or you’ll be punished” method. Great way to inspire a hatred of spinach. And art. It isn’t woven into their lives and it doesn’t grab them (or at least many of them) in a way that’s personally meaningful. Instead fine arts are introduced in later grades. Students are lectured, assigned work and graded. If they’re lucky they get extra doses of the arts doled out in guided museum visits and a class trip to see Shakespeare performed after weeks of preparation. The vitality is bled right out.

In Shakespeare’s time his plays were part of popular culture. People from all social classes crowded into the Globe Theatre where they enjoyed the bard’s social commentary, melodrama and comedy. Chances are they didn’t bother to analyze a thing. Chances are those plays did for them what art does when it means something to any of us, it illuminates.

Now I may provoke the label “idiot” again for admitting this but I love the way young people discover and appreciate art when it isn’t imposed on them. These days my kids are older (teens and young adults). They enjoy fresh visual arts on YouTube, soaring new classical music scored for video games, and performances everywhere. Better yet, they aren’t passive. They connect and engage with it. During a recent discussion I overheard my kids relate the theme of a recent movie to Homer’s Odyssey, tie that to quotes from a Terry Pratchett book, then they were off parodying the theme using quotes from movies and song lyrics. Lightening fast, funny and sharp. No curricula could possibly keep up. My kids swam in the current of fine arts from the very beginning, as it flowed naturally with all the other influences in their lives.

Here’s the enjoyment-based, jump-right-in way we’ve always gotten comfy with fine arts in my family. (Caution, some may deem it idiotic.)

1. Build in some fun. If you’re going to a concert in the park take along silent amusements for small people—a tiny stuffed animal that just might want to dance on its owner’s lap, drawing materials to capture impressions of the performers or the feeling of the music, a small treat that’s specific to concerts (consider bending that no lollipop rule). And if it isn’t much fun don’t stick around. Mosey off and wait until your children are older. And once your kids are older the experience is a greater pleasure for them if you let them invite a friend. We were often surprised to find that our twentieth trip to a museum, where my kids clamored to see favorite sculptures and new exhibits, was the first trip for their friends.

2. Make it an adventure. When you journey any distance to see a music performance, attend a play or ramble through galleries make that stop one of several anticipated events. Try to spot murals or other public art on the way (when they were little my kids knew we’d arrived when they waved at the Guardians of Traffic pylons as we drove over the bridge to Cleveland). Take a break in an ornate big city library, eat a packed lunch in a park, stroll through an open air market, pick up unusual snacks at an ethnic grocery, and let your child’s curiosity help guide the day’s events. If part of the day incorporates a lot of sit down time (including the ride to and fro) be sure to balance that with movement,
exploration and sensory adventure.

3. Tune it to the child’s level. Let preschoolers stroll as interest leads them through museums, especially art museums. You might decide to look for something specific on the way (one of my sons liked to spot animals, another son made it his quest to find anything airborne—birds, planes, angels, flying carpets). Make galleries a place of discovery. chat, ask questions, and when they lose interest it’s time to go.

4. Make it an ordinary part of life. As with anything, it’s what you pay attention to that you magnify. Conversations about music, philosophy, poetry or logic are just regular mealtime topics, brought up with the same casual interest as sports or the weather. Literary discussion with a four-year-old is easy. Simply talk about the picture book you’ve just read together. How could it have ended differently or gone on longer? Why do you think the main character acted that way or made that decision? Which character would you like to be in the story? Why?

5. Start early. Listen to music as you nurse babies to sleep, imagining the wonderful association that child is making between sound and comfort (whether Bach or the blues). Hold up tiny ones to get a better look at paintings or sculpture.

Indulge in sock puppet conversations with your toddlers. Dance and sing together unselfconsciously. Display your child’s artwork in frames and on shelves. Make CD’s available to kids for bedtime listening or quiet time, especially those by professional storytellers such as Odds Bodkins (who started my kids’ love of Homer’s Odyssey) and Jim Weiss. A great selection is available at Gentle Wind, Chinaberry, and your local library.

6. Enjoy it the way you choose. Shakespeare’s work may spark fascination in a lavishly illustrated picture book such as Coville’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Picture Yearling Book), an early chapter book such as Mayer’s The
Tempest or maybe a graphic novel like The Tempest The Graphic Novel. See The Tempest in any number of movies from productions done in 1928 to the newest, recasting Prospero as a woman. Check out how The Tempest has been interpreted by artists throughout the years. My kids appreciate a stage performance best after they know the story well, on their own terms, after bumping into it in books or movies or music. After seeing the play, one of my kids noted that it was written 400 years ago but names from The Tempest are still popular today— Miranda, Ariel, Antonio, Iris, Sebastian. That reminds me that the roots of what we care about today go much farther back than we imagine.

Find more suggestions at Free Range Learning.

I am happy to host a guest post today from Laura Grace Weldon. Laura’s offspring have fun doing things like training birds, raising spiders and fixing greasy machinery. She’s the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything (Hohm Press, 2010). Visit her at www.lauragraceweldon.com.

This article has been edited from a previous version published at www.LauraGraceWeldon.com.

17 Responses to:
"Introduce Fine Arts The Frigging Idiot Way"

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    I’m so horrified at that man’s reaction to your daughter, but I’m not surprised. We took Jac (at 6 months old) to a bell ringing concert around Christmas time. We got so many dirty looks when we brought him into the chapel. It turned out that Jac was absolutely captivated by the music and by watching the musicians. He was so into it that people were actually taking video and pictures of him! Since then, Jac has enjoyed other live shows, and I’m so glad!

  2. Elizabeth

    So ironic that your child acted in a more appropriate and mature manner than the man who felt the need to constantly complain.

  3. Annicles   IamAnnicles

    Thank goodness I haven’t come accross anyone like that – you were very restrained.

    Just today my three went to watch a piano trio concert. It helps their uncle is a professional cellist and they were thrilled to hear him play. We were the only non-grey heads there! Fortunately they all loved the music and sat still and then talked to people at the interval but music, art, theatre etc, they deserve to experience it all and not just as special “kiddie” events but the real thing.

  4. Abigail

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! Tears in my eyes. All the old people who complain about how the younger generation is so uncultured have simply brought it upon themselves. I’m a musician, and I’m planning on raising my children immersed in the arts.

  5. debe

    You have written some of my own thoughts here. I have been trying to take my child to events since a baby. No doing. I was actually refused, babies are not welcome. Baby concerts, and other such events I find to be so aggravating because they are condescending and simplistic most often and because there are so many other children that mine thinks it is play time. She knows the difference between “real concerts” and play concerts and acts that way despite my expectations. Anyway I feel that if they made arts more accessible to all, more would support them not just in financial terms but also in every other aspect of life. A friend who was raised in Europe said they had never been left with a baby sitter. When his parents went to shows, the kids went, when they went to restaurants, the kids went. Well any I am blabbering on when you pretty much said it all with this statement: “To me that’s the sort of separatist thinking that keeps fine arts in the underfunded, under appreciated realm where nearly extinct things go to die.”

  6. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ   TouchstoneZ

    Love this post! I’m hugging the part about Shakespeare, especially. I feel so sad when I hear someone say they “don’t get” him because it’s like you said: only for people who can appreciate him. I was fortunate to have an inspired teacher and New York City nearby so he came to life for me and became a passion of mine. My mother sings opera with my kids in her car. We watch and listen to all types of performance-art.

    One thing I’m wanting to do more of is fine art museum trips. I’m going to stop waiting and just do it every month. Really, what am I waiting for? My attachment to them learning something deep? Nah, I’ll stop being afraid of managing 3 kids and just treat it like I do Shakespeare-fun and accessible!

  7. Laura Grace Weldon   earnestdrollery

    So heartened to hear that parents are taking little ones to performances.

    I have to agree with Annicles and Debe that many of the “kiddie” events just aren’t the same quality. Reminds me of a true story told in the wonderful book The Soul’s Code:In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman. As a tiny child, Itzhak Perlman was entranced by music, particularly violin performances. He begged for his own violin. When he was four years old he was given one as a present. The future violin virtuoso and conductor eagerly pulled the bow across the strings. But the cheap toy didn’t play the sounds his ear anticipated, the sounds which to him were perhaps too sacred to be distorted by a faux “violin.” In a rage, the little boy smashed his new toy to bits. Sometimes children show their gifts and passions in ways that aren’t easy to interpret, but their inner lives are surely rich as ours.

  8. Kelly   BecomingCrunchy

    It made me so angry to read this…my jaw just hit the floor! (I think it’s the mama bear imagining myself in the same situation). I truly admire your patience though…I’m sure it was the best model for your daughter!

    And I thank you for your encouragement about introducing the arts…I am very much looking forward to bringing my daughter to such events…hopefully it will be part of turning the tide to acceptance of children in such places. :) Truly appreciate your list as well!

  9. Jennifer

    Love this post, and so timely for us. I’ve been thinking about bringing my 2.5 yo son to the art museum, but have hesitated. Tonight we were reading Olivia, and he had a ton of questions about the paintings that she sees at the museum. And said that he wanted to see the dancers (from the Degas painting). Wow! [Either that or he meant he wanted to see actual ballerinas...] But either way, children, even young children, want to be exposed to beauty as much as we do! I like the point about just leaving if it’s not working out – a good reminder that we don’t have to force anything to happen, just exposure is a great thing for their minds.

    And wow, I commend you for your grace under pressure. As I was reading about that incredibly rude man’s behavior, I felt myself getting so angry and defensive. You really showed your daughter how to behave in a mature way. :)

  10. This is a wonderful piece of writing, thank you for sharing it. I even emailed it to my husband because I keep talking to him about this very issue. :)

  11. kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

    Just took my 6 year old to the Broadway performance of Mary Poppins & it was awesome. During one song (Anything Can Happen If You Let It) she positively belted out the song – she was right on key, and darn, that girl can sing. Far from being annoyed, people around her looked & gave her smiles & thumbs-up.

    My sister is a concert cellist, so we’ve been to classical concerts as well – and my daughter sits quietly & soaks up the music. And we always get complements about how wonderful it is to see young people enjoying music.

    Kids need music. PEOPLE need music. There’s no age limit.

    I am sorry about that sour puss of a man, and thank goodness he didn’t return after intermission. I’d have requested he be removed, or a new seat for myself – you shouldn’t have to tolerate abuse; particularly when you’ve paid as much as he for a ticket.

  12. Love this post! Our family often attends concerts, and my children love it. You make a very valid point at the lack of support for the arts being linked to people not growing up without exposure.

  13. karyn   kloppenmum

    Just shows you that age (his) is no barrier to immaturity…

  14. Fran Magbual   BabiesOnline

    Wow…a true patron of the arts would have been happy to see a new generation enjoying the fine arts. It sounds like your daughter did nothing to ruin his enjoyment, other than being there, apparently! I’m just glad that your daughter wasn’t aware of that man’s boorish behavior and was able to just enjoy the concert.

  15. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    We’ve been to art galleries with our 2.5-yo Critter (my husband is a painter), and he and I have been doing Music Together since he was four months old. At home, we listen to everything from Bach to Miles Davis to Elizabeth Mitchell. These are great suggestions for going beyond what we’ve already been doing — thanks so much!

  16. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    We took Kieran to his first “real” concert (the type not made for kids where he actually had to be quiet) this weekend. He loved it! It was a college senior recital by a percussionist – the only time Kieran’s voice grew louder than a whisper was when the percussionist was playing the timpani; Kieran said “Mama! It sounds like thunder!”
    I really look forward to continuing to venture out in the fine arts. I played violin for years and years, and I want to share my love of music with Kieran.
    Thank you again for the fantastic post, Laura!

  17. Laura Grace Weldon   earnestdrollery

    I have to admit, my daughter was well behaved by the time she attended this concert (thank goodness) but when she was about three years old I took my kids to an international festival. Busy with her older brother and my nursing baby, I didn’t notice she’d slipped away from me. I had only a second to frantically scan the crowd for her curly head. There she was in front of the stage, so inspired by the Moroccan dancers that she could no longer sit in her seat. She’d run as close to them as she could get and then burst into a frenzied imitation. I hurried forward to grab her and she got a rousing bit of applause.

    Her love of music continues but she’s now a serious science-minded girl.

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