April 16, 2004

Arts Mentors Make the Difference in Young Lives

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:00 pm

I ran into a friend, Jean Vosti, at the hair salon and she was all aglow. She had just spent the morning holding her granddaughter while her daughter-in-law had a doctor’s appointment. Hannah Grace is Jean’s first grandchild, and Jean was euphoric about how here daughter-in-law was inviting her to be an active participant in Hannah’s life. Jean was honored to have been included in the delivery room for the birth, along with her daughter-in-law’s own mom and step-mom.

Jean told me all this with a dreamy grin and starry eyes and then paused. Suddenly, she sat up tall, her eyes turned resolute and her jaw became determined. “I’m going to be the Arts Grandma,” she declared.

Gazing forward as if she was looking at a screen projection of her vision for the future, she recited a list of plans to take Hannah to concerts and museums, to take her to her first “Nutcracker.” Then she looked at me and added, “Because I had mentors who did that for me.”

She told me about her dad, who worked for a company that distributed and serviced juke boxes. He used to bring home the classical music records that people didn’t want in their jukeboxes. No one in Jean’s family listened to them, so they were given to Jean, along with her own little player, so she could enjoy the music. Jean says that even at age six, she had a nice library of classical pieces, and she was regularly swept away by the glorious sounds.

Jean said her life was filled with people who were her arts mentors when her parents couldn’t be. Her grandfather didn’t have much money, but when he died, he left a little money to Jean so she could have violin lessons. Those lessons meant everything to a little girl, and a gesture like that was worth more to Jean than all the money in the world.

Jean finished her tale by saying, “Anyone can give things, but it takes a special person to give experiences.”

Jean’s story resonated strongly with me. Long before I had children, I decided I was going to be the Arts Mommy. Sure, I would do everything else a mom has to do, but I was not just going to trust that my children would become arts lovers by osmosis, or even through a very heavy deluge of art genes from both sides of the family. My kids are lucky, if you view the world through arts-colored glasses. They have an Arts Mommy, an Arts Daddy, two Arts Grandmas, two Arts Grandpas, and a host of Arts Aunts and Uncles. My husband and I dictatorially decided that we will adopt any of our kids’ friends who need arts mentors.

But Jean said she thinks that there are arts-minded people out there who don’t realize that some kids come from homes which don’t make a conscious effort to include the arts in the life of the family. Different strokes for different folks. But what if one of those homes includes a young Jean Vosti? Think of how an arts mentor could change that child’s world by being a companion for artistic exploration. Her point made me want to put my antennae up even higher to catch any wayward signals from young people looking for a guide.

Jean happens to be a trained pastry chef, and to end our conversation, she said, “I’m going to make sure Hannah has a life full of the arts and good food.” What a splendid life Hannah has ahead of her.

April 13, 2004

Some Mars Magic Here On Earth

Filed under: Art and About Nature — admin @ 3:09 pm

For some reason, it wasn’t big news a couple of weeks ago when NASA approved a five-month extended mission for the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. It was big news for me. I had been dreading the end of the supply of those breathtaking images that Spirit and Opportunity share with those of us Earthbound life forms.

I love Mars. Not the Roman god, or the science fiction imaginings, but the actual planet of Mars. From the first time I studied the planets in elementary school, there was something about Mars that intrigued me. It is surreal yet real, and getting more real all the time with NASA programs like the Mars Exploration Rovers.

My brain has trouble comprehending that the rover images are photographs, and not artists’ renditions of Earth’s sister planet. Each photo reads more to me like a landscape painting, familiar yet foreign. Something conjured by the Great Artist in the Sky during his/her Red Period. This art has been locked in the galactic basement for billions of years, and now the lenses of Opportunity and Spirit have found the key.

I generally respond to photos from space as if they were products of imagination rather than factual documentation. I know artists here on Earth are always seeing this planet’s beauty as inspiration for art. I appreciate natural beauty, even comment on it occasionally, but I am never compelled to paint it, and rarely do I pull out the camera to capture it.

I wonder if when my artistic fancy is captured by Mars or stars or quasars, that maybe I’m feeling a bit of what it is like to look at nature closer to home when viewed through the eyes of a landscape painter, or a nature photographer or a cinematographer? It’s exciting for me to think I might be able to see like one of these artists, even if it’s only through a pioneering robot’s lens.

Sometimes I find myself staring into the eyes of artists, wondering what it is like to see the world their way. I only have my own eyes, and they see the world mostly in verbiage. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to walk into an unfinished room and see it finished, as an interior designer would? I am awed by how an architect can look at a piece of land and see a structure. How Picasso’s brain made the leap to cubism blows my mind. Did M.C. Escher see his spatial illusions before he drew them? And if he did, how did he do that?

Sculptors in any medium amaze me. Somehow, their brains communicate with their hands, which magically transform clay or metal or popsicle sticks. People who design clothes are demigods. Sure, I can physically do the act of sewing, but to look at the human body and a bolt of fabric and create a garment more complex than a hole cut in the top of a sheet is a miracle.

And other people’s ears are incredible, too. I hear tale that some folks can listen to a bird singing, or the rhythm of the washing machine and create a song. Some composers see sunrises and translate that to sound. Others read a poem and hear music to marry with it.
Chefs smell and taste to create culinary art. Hair stylists feel the texture and thickness of hair and see a cut that complements the owner of the mane. Artistic sensibility has infinite variants in each individual.

Perhaps I don’t have to look to Mars to appreciate the beauty of the otherworldly.