Kids, Art, and Patterns for Life

Yesterday my friend Mike stopped by my office. He had never come in before and he immediately reacted to my copy of The Great Wave off Kanagawa (by Hokusai) over my desk.

Mike’s kids have been developing their modern art chops, so he too has been studying the classics. He’s raising them well (I’ll say that this is not the average experience). I was particularly impressed that they’re the ones driving this interest further, meaning it’s not just parental brow beating. Hunger for more and then self-sustenance is the sign that your teaching is working, right?

Our conversation turned to the value of talking about “the arts” in the broadest sense with kids.

I don’t have a technical explanation for this, but I’m pretty sure the purpose of art is that it gives us memorable patterns to store in our minds.

For my own kids, I’ve tried to point out that those patterns are portable. I won’t lie, that’s come with a fair share of eye rolls, frowns, groans, oh come on’s – nobody thought of THAT, etc., but it’s also come with the occasional real world applications that I’ve witnessed or they’ve pointed out. Those are special moments. The arts are special mediums that provide metaphors for so much of our lives.

Whether it’s a song lyric or a ballet, we have to hold on to the patterns that resonate the most with us. If we can, we should try to look “through” it – critically – and see the framework that’s holding it up.

The payoff of applying a critical eye, of seeing art that rhymes with life and vice versa, can be huge; not to mention it often increases our appreciation for the art – and life – itself. They’re even better when we can share them with others.

If we make some effort to cultivate the critical thinking skills of the next generations, we’re all going to be alright. Way to do your part Mike.