16 March 2006

Teaching Art to Young People, or Learning it From Them?

I recently had the joy of spending two-and-a-half days taking care of two girls, ages 9 and 11, for their parents. Among the many fun things we found to do was photography. Prompted by the older one's request to give it a try, I decided to teach them how to use my fancy digital camera to take pictures. It was delightful to share the joy of creating art with young people, and see them take pleasure in what they could realize from their imaginations. I was also quite impressed with their artistic sensibility. They seemed to intuit that they could shift their point of view by moving around with the camera to change how the subject looks in the final result. The younger one was particularly good at zooming in close to make the subject or a small detail of it fill the frame. And the older one delighted in focusing on the subject while throwing the background out of focus, a technique she only had to ask me how to do with the camera's controls, but she already had the idea that's what she wanted to do.

This got me thinking about how young people develop the sense of recognizing beauty. Is it innate? Is it something you can teach? I remember the story my pastor told of the time when he took his whole family on a trip to India, when their children were little. His son, about age two at the time, taught him something about the human capacity to appreciate beauty. They were approaching the Taj Mahal from a muddy parking lot, and you couldn't see the majestic structure yet because it was behind a fence. But all of a sudden they came out into the open and there was the Taj Mahal looming ahead of them. The little boy breathed in a gasp of astonishment as soon as he saw it. It was then that my pastor friend realized he had in that little toddler a human being capable of appreciating beauty.

Young children also love the sounds of language. While they can't appreciate the more subtle aspects of poetic imagery yet, they can recognize and delight in repetitions of sounds, rhymes, puns, etc. And they seem to be always inventing their own little songs and poems. I can't remember what poet it was who was asked "When did you start writing poetry?" and he responded, "When did you stop?"

If you've ever had the chance to spend some significant time around children (this was really the first time in my adult life that I have!), you know that they teach you to see the world from a child's perspective again. I found my creativity enhanced by being with these girls, watching and participating in their artistic endeavors with them.


Rosie Perera said...

Oops, I forgot I meant to take up Sorina's suggestion. I have only just been out of bed for a little while and haven't had time to do any reading or listening yet today, so I'll write about yesterday:

Yesterday I listened to: The "Swingle Singers" (a jazzy a capella group) singing Mozart. My favorite is their rendition of the last movement of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."

Yesterday I read (some of): The Habit of Being (the letters of Flannery O'Connor); I've been reading it little by little for a few months. I rarely read an entire book in a day these days. I'm usually in the middle of a dozen or more at a time, and don't have the uninterrupted time to read straight through even a great fast-paced novel.

Iambic Admonit said...

Listened to: Some Simon & Garfunkle song on the radio in the apartment complex business center

Read: Lots of poems! Petrarch, Seamus Heaney, Theodore Roethke, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay....

Yes! the stories about kids appreciating beauty. I find this in my teaching every day. Tonight my students are performing at a coffee house. They're playing Classical, Broadway, hymns, and Christian Rock, and they're reading poetry by famous people and by themselves. It's a celebration/education of poetry in Medieval/Renaissance forms, so I'll be teaching about the forms and they'll be reading. But I am amazed at the nature talent of a 14-yr-old and how quickly s/he can learn to adapt to the skills I'm teaching. They are very sensitive to meter, rhyme, vowel pitches, consonant connotations, alliteration, assonance, and form -- as well as emotion, significance, allusion, and humour. I love watching them teach me things about life and poetry and music! ... more details another day....

Mehitchcock said...

Almost all of the philosophy, religiously inspired and non, that I've read had a great deal about how to become a child again. How to stop thinking about being and just to be. How to stop thinking about thinking and just to think.
I am always energised by my work with children. Even teens have this spark. And it is this childish creativity and appreciation that makes an adult wonderful to be around.

Rosie Perera said...

I found the answer to who responded "When did you stop?" when asked "When did you start writing poetry?" It was William Stafford. The wording might have been slightly different. He might have been asked "When did you become a poet?" and he replied "When did everyone else stop?"