Ask everyone in the surrounding neighborhood to write their hopes and dreams on it:
|I wish I had gotten a better picture.|
He spun one heel on the blinding white floor and started heading in my direction. His left leg went into a deep bend as his right extended forward, like R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural. He was wearing a brown disco hat, double-breasted tan pleather jacket, sunglasses stolen from Erik Estrada’s face and jeans that had been converted into bellbottoms with triangles of corduroy fabric hand-sewn into the seams.
He thrust his jaw forward to the rhythm of the lite funk Muzak piping into the room, and changed up his pimp walk every few steps. At one point, he was doing an exaggerated West Side Story-meets-The Hustle finger point/snap, other times bobbing his head with a small boom box hoisted to his ear. The computer-generated music had absolutely no business inspiring anyone to move that way. Clearly, he wasn’t just anyone.
He zig-zagged through several of the walkways of the department store, fully immersed in its soundtrack and his own universe. A small fleet of people chased him with cell phones, trying to catch a video clip or photographs. Others dove back into the sea of clearance racks with a nervous laugh, raised eyebrow or hushed “ooo-kay!” In a matter of minutes, he made it to the mouth of the mall and walked out of sight with a full upper-body swagger, one arm swinging behind him as he looked deeply right, then deeply left — never straight ahead.
There are plenty of places I go in Columbus where this might have been funny yet not entirely odd, like the Gallery Hop, any number of arts events and festivals, or anywhere on the Ohio State campus. They have all seen some share of guerrilla theater (there can never be enough, in my opinion). But this guy chose to strut through the heart of a Macy’s department store in one of the city’s oldest surviving enclosed malls (Eastland). It’s a dinosaur of a place where the majority of the shoppers are either 16 and willing to buy clothes that have a logo stamped across the rear end, or 66 and looking for suitable pants with plain hindquarters for senior rear ends.
Shucking, jiving, mall pimp-walking dude, I salute you. Your cartoon presence was just what I needed to combat the absurdity of sale shopping and trying on clothes in florescent lighting.
We had an hour or two to visit an art museum in another city the other day. No sooner had we hung up our coats than one of the volunteers asked my son, “would you like to do a scavenger hunt in the museum today? If you finish it, you get a prize!”
Being four and generally highly motivated by reward systems, he looked at me eagerly for permission to say yes. I gave it to him. If I deprived him of that kind of offer, I might as well have kissed my chances at a fun museum visit goodbye. (This scavenger hunt basically asked you to find particular pieces of art in the different galleries, then answer a question about each one.)
For the first several rooms, I tried to balance the tasks of the scavenger hunt with more meaningful conversations about the art and history we were looking at. Every now and then, I could get him to stop and ponder something like how a particular piece of art was made, how it might be used, the story it might be telling or what it even was. But as we pushed on, the tasks of the scavenger hunt became more and more pressing, pulling us away from other things we might have been able to talk about.
We saw another dad looking completely beleaguered as his 9-year-old son ignored his requests to talk about any of the 18th-century European paintings he wanted to share with him. The kid was just too far into the throes of his primal push to finish his scavenger hunt and earn his prize.
As far as I’m concerned, scavenger hunts are the equivalent of worksheet learning in the classroom. They don’t invite any real depth of understanding, and do not create a particularly meaningful relationship with their subject. They are more cheap marketing gimmick, something that seems to be designed for children to pass time while parents are supposed to either help, or meditate on paintings in solitude or something. In this case, they actually seemed to be depriving more than one family of an organic museum experience.
On Sunday, a friend of mine and I took our kids to the local museum, which is under construction, so all that is open is an illuminated Dale Chihuly exhibit and a couple of rooms with highlights from its permanent collection. We led our four-year-olds through and asked them what they thought the abstract glass forms were.
“That looks like an upside-down turkey!” my son said about a glumpy shape slumped over in a forest of spears.
“That’s like a shoe, all opened up,” said his friend about a floppy, shell-like piece.
We ventured past the people watching a movie smack in the middle of the gallery, which seemed like an unnecessary obstacle with this inherent message: “shut up and don’t talk about the art.” We squirmed out of that room. My friend’s daughter peeked around the corner, and then ran back to grab my son’s hand and pull him in, howling – “come look! It’s SPACE!”
Their imaginations and curiosity ruled the rest of the visit. A chandelier was an erupting volcano from another planet. A sphere was a “giant Jupiter that’s all dead.” In the permanent collection galleries, my friend, who grew up in Holland, had her daughter jumping up and down with excitement over her obvious connection to Dutch paintings. We all sat on the floor in front of a George Segal sculpture and talked about what plaster is and how you might go about making a person out of one.
Of course, there was a room with the dreaded reward-based scavenger hunts, which just seem to be everywhere kids may show up now, but thankfully, no one bypassed us and offered them to ours. When my friend’s daughter asked what all the kids with clipboards were doing and if she could do it, her mother dismissed it with a smooth “you have to be able to read to do that.” We sidestepped the issue and took in the grandeur and mystery of a ride back downstairs in the giant elevator instead.
Granted, I’m the daughter of an art educator, so I was raised with a particular love and appreciation for art. But I didn’t find that love via lectures or gimmicky games. I was simply given the room to respond to and be inquisitive about it – to use my brain to make of it what I may before getting down to the facts of who made it and what they thought it meant or why it might be historically or culturally relevant.
If you want a child to love art, don’t make him or her whisper about it in a gallery or do some glorified word search to earn some 3-cent superball or a sticker. I also had a total blast on Sunday… and it was the interpretations and questions of our two four-year-olds that made it so much fun for all of us, pure and simple.
At a time when there are endless books out there espousing the value of “creative” people to the richness of our lives – even our economy – why are museums, of all places, bent on such ordinary engagement with kids, who are by nature some of the most innately creative people in the world?
There’s this strange, displaced, unsettled feeling that can creep around you when you grow up with divorced parents. Places that you are supposed to call home don’t always feel like they are yours. You’re more likely to have people closely entangled in your life that haven’t been invested in you all along… people who didn’t know you when you were tiny and squishy and so clearly emanating the glow of endless possibilities. Even if they love you, they’re as likely to fear as understand you when you act crazy or angry or pained or restless. They are less likely to know how to muster compassion for the complicated business of acting like a child.
I’m not nostalgic for this childhood feeling, but I was nonetheless grateful to see it reflected on the screen of a movie theater on a Friday afternoon. I don’t remember seeing it there before. The dissonant parts of my childhood were probably pretty different from those of Maurice Sendak, Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, but the tone they were able to evoke was strikingly familiar to me, in a lovely yet menacing way.
We took Declan, and frankly, the stark joy, disappointment, warmth and anger in Max’s home life at the beginning of the film was far more agitating to him than the land of the clomping, reckless, emotionally conflicted wild things. He laughed the most hysterically and showed the most fear in the first 15 minutes. He was worried that Max wouldn’t return to his mother, so, to him, the ending was especially happy. I imagine that his response, and who he relates to the most in the film, is likely to change as he gets older.
There’s been a ton of discussion in every form of media about whether or not this movie is really for kids. I get tired of hearing people make that judgment, because honestly, I think it depends on the kid, what he or she likes and is able to process. (Not to mention the fact that many things that are made “for kids” by adults prove to be unwatchable, so I’m not sure why critics feel so obligated to bother with that flawed measuring stick. A lot of the greatest kids’ films I’ve seen appealed to adults as well.)
I can tell you, though, that Declan and I have had several great conversations about the movie and the intense emotions presented in it all weekend. We’ve talked about what’s scary to him and what’s scary to me. We’ve even talked about how and why a book can be so different from a movie, which opens a new and fabulous vista for our discussions about stories and art.
I’ll leave the nitpicky criticism about the filmmaking and its relative artfulness up to better-equipped people.
I simply loved this movie because of what it moved me to remember and the rich moments on new emotional terrain that it has given me to explore with my kid.
If you want a clinical blow-by-blow description of the potentially upsetting parts of almost any current movie including this one, Kids-In-Mind movie ratings are extremely helpful.
1. When a distant star shakes and shimmies ever so slightly (visible only through a high-powered telescope), that’s a good indication that it has planets orbiting around it. The gravitational pull of big dudes like Jupiter and Saturn are most likely make their suns go a-quiver, which is why most of the exoplanets that astronomers have discovered are gas giants, not the bitty Earth-like places.
2. Even as the lone male dancer in a ballet class that wasn’t about space, my son loved to dance. He wants to stay in ballet lessons. People have told me that there are good scholarships out there for boys. I need to find out if that’s true.
3. It is possible to be winded by a sixty-second run one day, and find yourself running 20 minutes in a row without falling down dead five weeks later.
4. When your child begins to develop a real connection to visual art, it’s a beautiful thing. Especially when that connection involves imitating a piece by saying “I QUIT!” loudly and doing a faceplant on the floor in the middle of a Downtown gallery.
5. Letting your only child hang out with a couple of families that have three kids is an awesome reminder that left to their own devices, kids can and will work a lot of stuff out without your help.
We cracked two eggs a few weeks ago, separated the yolks into two bowls and added green food coloring to one, purple to another. Declan swirled a paintbrush in each and went wildly at a sheet of watercolor paper two-handed.
“You’re like Giotto,” I told him. “Hundreds of years ago, most painters used eggs.”
The cacophony of swirls on his paper was the planet Jupiter, he told me. We hung it on the fridge and admired the shininess of the paint even after it dried.
Last week, we went through several of his paintings from home and school to choose one to frame for KidzArtz, a local event put on by Mother Artists at Work. We have a whole series of wild ones called “The Big Bang” and several named after a variety of nebulae. Lately, he’s been making pictures with unpredictable names like “Saturn Falling Apart” and “A Comet Raising Into an O.” He chose the eggy Jupiter.
I’m grateful to have an event like KidzArtz in our community. The only criteria for entering a work of art to exhibit was to be a kid, be registered and pay $1 per piece, so we submitted three. When we dropped off “Just Jupiter,” the painting, as well as two framed photo series: “Arrow, Dinosaur, Take a Picture of Your Foot,” and “Look at yourself in the glass, Daddy and Megan and the City,” the mother artists oohed and aahed over his submissions and listened to him talk about them a little.
At the event, all of the kids got a strip of stickers to show their appreciation for other kids’ art. It was a great mechanism for getting Declan to contemplate someone else’s work – he had already pulled off a snake sticker and tacked it onto the panel next to a painting called “Two Suns” before we realized it was made by a good 4-year-old friend. That surprise discovery – of liking something before you even realized you knew its creator – was so exciting to him, I think he ended up showing more people his friend’s paintings than his own.
He waited patiently for a very long time in three-year-old terms to get his face painted exactly the way he wanted it (very David Bowie circa Aladdin Sane, his dad and I thought). He put on a hat and stethoscope and held an inflatable guitar to have pictures taken by GroovyDoodle, whose proprietors wisely brought all kinds of stuff for kids to put on and ham in front of the camera with. But when we tried to watch some of the kids performances, he wept inconsolably, crying “but I wanted to perform,” which I honestly didn’t see coming at all.
I don’t suppose there’s much risk that Declan will grow up without an appreciation for the arts – he was born into a family full of people that perpetually write about, teach, consume, create and actively think about these things. But I can’t understate the value of having a place, even for just one day a year, where he is able to be appreciated for his creative mind by peers (and some adults who actually know how to listen to kids), without the structure of a contest, marketing formula or some other imposed standards.
I wish more children’s events were like this one. Thank you, Mother Artists at Work!
Had a fabulous time at a creativity workshop with Amy yesterday, and met her two beautiful boys along with a handful of other local bloggers (though I didn’t get much chance to visit because Dec was feeling uncharacteristically shy). We came home with a poem, a cool art smock, two bags of green slime, a garbage bag crab and a belly full of Starburst candies. He kept the third eye she had him make to help him peer into his own imagination for about an hour after we’d left. He said he could see Jupiter with it in the late daylight. He told lots of his friends about her at preschool today. About her and art and poetry. And candy.
The workshop was the focal point of a mother-son day. He and I ate lunch together and laughed at squeaky straws and talked about solar flares and prominences. After the workshop, we had some time to kill before we went to see his dad and Megan Palmer play a set at Lost Weekend Records, so we went out and visited a few satellite dishes. We drove past a big cluster on campus, then found this inactive one that we could take a closer look at. He was thrilled to touch something that communicates with space.
He was quite the photojournalist at Lost Weekend. I’ll post some of those pictures another day.
My brother and I grew up looking at this painting. I remember laying on the shag carpet in the family room when I was a kid, staring up at it. It informed the ways that we each made our first pieces of art. I remember sculpting and drawing people that looked like these for as long as I could draw. My brother has, at different points, asked if we could share it, if it could live with him for a while. His wife has told me she’d rather we didn’t. She’s very content to see at my house and not hers. My husband wouldn’t mind if we saw it at theirs. I guess having an affinity for it must be genetic.
Declan was looking at it this morning. He decided the pink circle must be the moon. I asked him what else he saw in the painting.
“I don’t know, what is it?” he asked.
“Well, this a painting. A painting can have whatever you see in it,” I said. “There’s no right or wrong.”
My son, who has a touch of perfectionism that makes him want the right answer most of the time, seemed freed by this. He started pointing at different things, explaining what they could be. (I put several of his comments in notes of the image on flickr. If you click through, you can see how he describes it.)
In fact, this painting was made by a nun. It depicts her survival of sexual abuse. I never saw this in it. It never felt that menacing or sad to me. I was much older when I learned its origin, and still, I find a sense of strength and joy in it.
I’ve got to make sure I get my son to look at art more often. It’s liberating.
Growing up in a Catholic household the 1960s, my husband says that most of the living rooms he visited as a child had pictures of Jesus and JFK hanging on the wall.
As a child of the 1970s, I don’t remember any presidential administration that inspired that kind of iconic reproduction. Things have changed. The stream of Barack Obama faces printed on clothing and hats since early summer festivals this year has been steady to overflowing, many using design elements that intentionally evoke Bob Marley, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. Apparently, we like wearing our new leader, putting forward our faith in his abilities.
Meanwhile, weird art has been emerging from all corners of the Internet, putting forward its own agenda:
A lot of pundits claim that voters have unrealistic, Jesus (or Fabio)-like expectations of our new President. On first view, this illustration seems to underscore that idea. It was actually intended to poke fun at Obama supporters in Portland, Oregon this past May.
This one comes from Dan Lacey, Painter of Pancakes, who mostly paints political and celebrity figures with pancakes on their heads, although he also has some of famous figures donning jock straps, carrots and “Minnesota” toast” on their noggins. If you poke around his site, you’ll find that there are a couple of other nude Obama with unicorn paintings, including a revision of this one with a leaner president-elect.
An Indiana man who calls himself the “Taco Werewolf” created a series of “Obama Taco Underwear” paintings. Over the summer, when he finished his shifts at a Mexican restaurant, Mr. Werewolf would nosh on free tacos in his underwear and watch Obama speeches, which filled him with such inspiration he was moved to make these paintings.
Last but not least, here’s a camptastic one (pointed out to me by my mom), from local artist Paul Richmond. It is available as a Giclee Print on Etsy.