Thursday, June 6, 2013


One of the things I have always taught Benjamin and am now teaching Cava is that a closed mind shows open ignorance. Growing up, my Mom encouraged and nurtured a love for the arts in me. I loved to read and draw, so she took me to the local library constantly and to museums to see art. I was also exposed to a lot of different types of music in our house (classical, jazz, gospel, folk, blues, country, opera, blue grass, music of the 50's and 60's, show tunes), so I have a love for a variety of music (I also didn't grow up with MTV which makes me an anomaly of my generation. South Carolina didn't allow for MTV to be shown on TV).

When we went on trips, unlike the kids of today, we didn't have iPods to listen to, so we listened to whatever our parents listened to. Even today, whenever I hear The Beach Boys, I think about riding in my Mom's VW Bug with the windows down on our way to the beach.

I have tried to pass on this love of music to Benjamin. Around the house or driving in the car, I play what can best be described as eclectic since I just hit shuffle on my iPod so that it can play from any of my playlists: classical, jazz, world music, etcetera. This means they could be hearing Yo-Yo Ma one minute or Duke Ellington the next, Mexican musical duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela or Icelandic Sigur Ros, or Radiohead followed by The Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Benjamin used to balk at classical music until I told him to really listen to it and tell me what he imagined was happening, just as if this were the score to a movie that he created. He loved this and soon began to describe an elaborate story full of vivid imagery.

So, unlike many kids, Benjamin has a wider scope of music that he's not only been exposed to but that he loves to listen to on his iPod. How many other 13 year-olds have a playlist that includes everything from The Beatles to The Talking Heads to music from Les Miserables?

And Cava is slowly becoming the same way. He absolutely loves Regina Spektor (so long as she sings in English and not Russian). He likes island music, as well as anything with a dance beat to it. Recently I've begun playing jazz and, to my surprise, he likes Esperanza Spalding, especially when she begins to scat and breaks from traditional lyrics. As she did, he came up to me and asked, "What's that?" When I told him, he smiled and said, "I like that." Later, I heard him attempting to scat himself.

In the past, we have taken Benjamin to museums, including a visit to The Mint Museum in Charlotte to see an exhibit of Charlotte native Romare Bearden's work. As we walked around the crowded gallery, we would stop at different pieces and I would ask Benjamin what he thought the story of the painting was. Once again, it helped get his creative juices going and I loved hearing his take on a particular piece. He responded to the bright colors as well, which I also used to introduce him to the work of the artist Matisse.

When Benjamin was little, he came home from school all upset. I asked him what was the matter and he told me how the art teacher had told him he was doing his landscape all wrong. 


How can an art teacher even use that term? So I inquired further and asked what the parameters were for the landscape. Did the teacher give certain criteria as to what she expected from the students. No, there were none. She only told them to paint a landscape. Benjamin had chosen nontraditional colors for his, such as purple trees and orange grass. 

Irritated that a teacher would take it upon herself to call any artwork "wrong," I got out a few of my art books. I showed Benjamin landscapes by Chagall (purple goats, floating couples), Suerat (pointillism whereby the whole painting is a series of colorful dots), Monet (waterlilies), and Bosch (with his bizarre landscapes filled with fantastical creatures). "See," I told him, "how each artist views the world differently? And none of them are wrong. It's okay to see the world differently no matter what your teacher tells you."  Here is a chalk drawing we did and I can see how it was inspired by the magical Chagall:

I have also encouraged Benjamin artistically by making short films with him that he's written the script for. Here's a short clip of one entitled "There's No Such Things As Little Boys" about a young monster who's afraid to go to sleep at night because he's afraid there's a little boy hiding in his closet or under his bed. Benjamin not only wrote the script, but he also drew the background and manipulated the puppets. He did this back when he was in elementary school.

One of the things I love most is that we get to expose Cava to so many new things culturally, especially in the arts. This is a boy who had not been given a chance to express himself creatively. He had never had the opportunity to work with crayons or paint or clay. Recently I bought Cava his own set of inexpensive paints so that he can not only finish his mural of Ukraine, but so he can also paint other pictures. I think this will help him both creatively in nurturing his imagination and emotionally, as it gives him a new outlet to express himself.

Recently, we went to Catawba Science Center and, afterwards, I decided to take Cava over to the museum side to see how he responded to the art. As we walked up the stairs to the gallery, he exclaimed, "Wow! Papa," as he glanced around.

He liked any painting that had an animal in it or was brightly colored. His favorite floor was the one with folk art. His favorite pieces were the airplane, which he spotted and yelled, "Airplane! Papa, airplane!"

And the octopus:

Although he did enjoy posing with the muscle man:

I was just glad that he could walk with me through a gallery and stop to look at a painting, no matter how momentarily. 

Because he's shown an interest in drawing, I got all my How to Draw books (shout out to Ed Emberly) for Cava to use. He was especially interested in the one about how to draw cars and the one to draw superheroes.

The more he's exposed to art, music, and new experiences, the bigger Cava's world gets and, hopefully, he will begin to have an appreciation for a wide variety of cultural experiences. Besides, letting him learn to create can only improve his learning to communicate, not only verbally but visually. It also provides him the opportunity to talk about what he's drawn or painted. 

Art is also a good way to help Cava develop his social and emotional skills. As educator and author MaryAnn F. Kohl wrote, "Art fosters positive mental health by allowing a child to show individual uniqueness as well as success and accomplishment, all part of a positive self-concept." This is definitely something that Cava needs.

For an excellent article on The Importance of Art in Child Development, here is a link to an article by Grace Hwang Lynch:

And it doesn't matter if Cava never creates a masterpiece, since art is not about the product but the process. Besides, what I love about Cava painting a picture is that it is him expressing himself and how he sees the world and by listening to him explain this, it makes the world that much bigger to me as I begin to notice things through his eyes.

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