Four Things The Fine Arts Taught Our Kids

When I was about 11 years old, I saw an advertisement for a series of art books called the Time-Life Library of Art. They had a book about Leonardo DaVinci, and Michaelangelo, and Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, and Winslow Homer, and … and … everything!!! I begged and pleaded with my mother to please PLEASE order these books.

My two older sisters were real true artists, and I loved to draw anything and everything. (Yes, I liked playing in the mud and exploring the woods and playing tackle football with the neighborhood kids, but drawing was a passion of mine.) So, of course Mama wrote out a check to Time-Life, and the books started rolling in about every two months. I still have the set today. I still bring them out and pore over them. And when our kids were young, the kids would sit next to Daddy, and I would tell them about the wonderful, “magical” world of art.

My wife and I believed that in addition to all the “core” subjects of reading, math, science, and history, kids must be exposed to music, drama, painting, sculpting, building, and dancing. Not every child is going to make it their passion, we understand that. Here is what we wanted to develop in our children by studying the fine arts:

1. Creativity and imagination.

The arts are fun! When children are little they LOVE to slop paint around and make pictures full of color! My boys LOVED building with Legos and Play-Doh! My daughter could not stop dancing. The kids loved play-acting, and later were involved in our homeschool “Speech and Debate” club in which they acted out some of the great moments of drama.

And the arts are how we as a civilization see our world. Life is more than memorizing stories of history or solving equations (as important as those things are). The arts are how we rejoice, mourn, explore, provoke, change, and comfort. Cultivate a child’s imagination early in letting them express with paint or dance or song how they feel about the things they love the most. And there are good studies that show that children who participate in the fine arts (not just listen to music or look at paintings, but actually participate) do better academically.

When I think about the importance of creativity and imagination in a child’s life, I am reminded of a very moving scene in one of my favorite movies, Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). Here in this scene, the principal (William H. Macy) tells Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) that they must cut the entire music and drama staff.

Mr. Holland responds with two of the best lines in the movie: “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later these kids won’t have anything to read or write about.” And then there’s “You are creating a generation of people who will not have the ability to think or create!” Amen. Here’s the scene:

2. Awareness of other cultures.

My wife and I believed it was important for our kids to know that our culture is not the only one. God has “inspired” people all over the world to create amazing art. We not only taught them the great masters of European and American art (Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, etc.), but they learned and appreciated paintings, architecture, and sculpture from China, India, Japan, Africa, and the Native American cultures.

In my daughter’s dance class (going on 10 years of dance now …) she not only learns classical ballet, but also dances from India, Japan, and Africa. The center of artistic beauty is not the United States or Europe. There is incredible artistic beauty all over the world. And kids need to know that.

When it came to music, of course we let them listen to the very best from America (Elvis, Allman Brothers, Skynard, Creedance, and anything from Motown), but we also exposed them to the best from “across the pond” (the Beatles, the Who, and Pink Floyd).

Yes, of course we taught them the great classical masters (Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc.). Kids need to know the great pieces of music and the great paintings, as well as WHY they wrote or painted as they did, as part of their education. Here are some videos to help us know some of the greatest works of art:

Here’s a great video highlighting 1200 years of Chinese painting:

Here are some of the most iconic works of classical music:

And here is the incredible Luciano Pavarotti bringing the house down singing “Nessun Dorma” (from “Turandot” by Puccini):

3. An appreciation for beauty.

We wanted our kids to enjoy beauty. Looking at a wonderful painting like “The Sunflowers” by Van Gogh or listening to Luciano Pavarotti belt out “Nessun Dorma” just restores the heart, soul, and mind. It feeds us with food we cannot get anywhere else. Isn’t this world filled with enough filth and violence? Fill your mind with the beauty of great art and be restored.

So, hopefully our children have learned that great art — understanding and appreciating beauty — is restorative. It is therapy. And it’s just plain fun. We took our kids to museums every chance we had, whether it was the Cleveland Museum of Art, or the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. or the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Can’t visit a museum nearby? Go to YouTube! Here are some virtual tours of the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where Rocky always goes running up the steps).

The Louvre:

British Museum:

Philadelphia Museum of Art:

4. Perseverance and confidence.

We made all four of our kids take piano. My wife can read music and play an instrument. Sadly, I never learned how to read music nor play an instrument. I like to sing, but the only thing I play is the radio (and air guitar … I play a mean air guitar). But I wanted my kids to do better than me. So they all took piano for years.

Did the boys like it? Not a whole bunch. They would rather play soccer or do martial arts. But we told them that this was not forever. And they pressed on until they could play some songs for us rather well! They marched right up to the piano and confidently played some pretty good tunes for us! They learned a knew skill! Our daughter continued in piano mainly because she knew it would be good for her dance training. Would any of them become Van Cliburns? No. They have all ceased their piano training. But all of them now know how to read music, and they know they are the better for it.

My daughter is a dancer. Her ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical training is not easy. Not by a long shot. She will come home just as dog-tired as any football player. And she’ll tell you that she’s not gifted with the natural flexibility or musicality of other students. But she trains hard. I’ve told my kids a million times, “Hard work beats talent, when talent won’t work hard.” Well, she just works mighty hard on her art, and she is definitely headed places with her artistry. Her art has taught her to persevere and face the world with confidence.

Well, the boys are all grown up now. The girl is too. The boys are not pursuing careers in the fine arts. The girl is though. But they all have many fond memories of looking at Medieval suits of armor, gazing at great paintings and wondering about the people who created them and their world, listening to inspiring music, and sitting next to Daddy as he excitedly told them about the art and message of people and cultures long ago.