While academics and sports take up a lot of our family's spare time, I do attempt to help my kids be well-rounded in other areas. So this week a trip to the Los Angeles Museum of Art was on our agenda.
We briefly visited LACMA many years ago and the kids couldn't remember a thing about it. The main thing I remembered was an exhibit with art featuring different colors of florescent lights. I didn't get it. I knew, however, there was a lot more to discover there.
Our visit started at the children's museum, which is basically a place where the kids could draw and paint. It was very relaxing and my girls enjoyed it; well, except for one child. She got frustrated and claimed that her painting was "horrible." Despite my encouraging words, she threw them away. The others left theirs out to dry while we explored.
At first, we saw mostly relics from Asia in years gone by: Pottery, china, furniture, etc. But then we hit the Ahmanson building and were wowed by the modern art exhibits. The kids couldn't believe a blue triangle was art and got a kick out the flying SPAM can.
The next room brought abstract art: Paint splatters and all. "I could do that!" one of them shouted as I quickly told them to remember their museum manners. Soon we came upon a room full of Picasso's artwork. I've always been entertained by his art, but my girls just thought it was plain weird. We took a seat and I asked them to look around and pick which was their favorite. This got them to actually study the works a bit instead of passing them off as strange.
Soon we were enjoying works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and more. We talked about the different styles of painting, the use of dots or lines, light and shadow, depth and perspective. Well, I talked about it and they politely listened. While they weren't completely intrigued, they did show some interest in the various styles and commented about what they liked and didn't like.
Next we took a look at contemporary art that seemed to break all the rules. Most were not paintings, but large three dimensional structures.
I wasn't sure what my kids thought of our visit to the museum until late in the day, when we stopped at a library and gift shop. My older girls started reading through books about some of the artists and styles we had seen. The younger ones looked at postcard prints of the more famous works. I asked them which of the artwork we saw was their favorite. I was amazed when they could not only tell me which one they liked, but why.
We still had some time before we had to go home, so I let them paint one more time. I encouraged them to try out one of the different styles of art we had seen. My oldest ones went for the impressionism styles. I think the idea that that their art didn't have to look perfect was freeing for them. Realizing art didn't have to look like a photograph, the child who had thrown her previous paintings away made not only one, but two paintings, and was quite proud of them.
People sometimes wonder why we should make an effort to be "cultured." I always felt like it gave us a greater perspective on life in general and made us more interesting people. After watching the effect a few hours at an art museum had on just one of my children, however, I think it is so much more than that. Taking time to give our kids cultural experiences can teach our children to appreciate the differences that exist among us and that it's OK to try your own thing.
Whether it's artists daring to paint outside the lines or pilgrims willing to leave everything behind and settle a new country, it's people willing to break the mold and do something creative or stand for something different that brings about growth in our society. Sometimes the hardest lessons for kids (and adults) to learn is that they don't have to be exactly like everyone else. It really is OK to be different.
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.