It is valuable to show a child that there is an art to dining. It can be an effort to fill our body, or we can bring it to a higher place, and fill our soul as well. Most of us think only of food when preparing a dinner. But, there is more. Let us look at three important aspects of a dinner that will influence the whole experience. There is table setting. There is music. There is conversation.
The table setting and music will influence the conversation. Set the tone of the event with an elegantly set table, and classical music in the background, and your guests will more likely meet the occasion with matching conversation.
A child can be given the same experience. Cloth napkins, silverware, rather than flatware, and soft background music teaches refinement as we remind the child not to talk with her mouth full. So, we get a well-rounded lesson, rather than a demand. I've learned that a glass of grape juice in a wine glass makes a child feel at one with the grown ups at the table. Over a period of time, the child will grow more sensitive to etiquette.
Try it once a month. These table manners will influence people's opinions of your child later in life.
I try to think of dinners as art. As I learned about table setting, the presentation of the food came to the forefront. I began to think of colors, and of balance and line on the plate. Larger pieces, with smaller pieces, well poured sauce enhances the impression. Treat yourself to a 5-Star restaurant as a lesson. It's a gift. You'll experience the art of a well-taught chef and maitre de.
Naturally, balance is important. Let a child be a child. But, you may want to choose an occasional dinner, to give him or her more than just food.
I put my 10-year old son to bed recently. He was suffering over the split between me and his mother. So, he felt uncomfortable in a dark room. "Tell me a story in bed." He asked. We've become used to bedtime stories, and they have given us many loving moments at night. Knowing what he likes, I offered a Greek myth. He asked for something from the bible. It surprised me, because we hadn't studied much from the bible. We settled on the Book of Job. I told him of the bet between God and Satan, and how Job's fate lie in the balance.
He learned of Satan's taking of everything that Job had owned, in an attempt to prove that Job would eventually lose his trust in God. We saw Job suffer. We saw him question God. We saw Job question his own value as a person. But, his trust never wavered. After the story we spoke.
"Anthony," I told him. "This story is not very simple. The story teaches us to accept what we cannot control. Things may happen in our lives that we don't like, or that we don't understand." This tuned into a valuable father-son moment about the pain of divorce, and how it effected his life. He told me his fears of losing his security. I told him how his mother and I would always be there for him. We also talked about fate, and what it means that some things are beyond our control.
"We can get angry and try to change them. We can also try to accept them. It is not easy to accept our pains."
"Then we should change them." He said.
"Changing what makes us unhappy is not always possible." I told him of Homer's Iliad, and how Zeus, the father of all of the gods, wanted to save the life of the great Trojan general Hector, who was fated to die in battle with Achilles.
But Athena reminded him that Hector's doom had been fixed by the Fates. "Even Zeus, cannot change it without the agreement of the other gods."
Zeus raised high the golden scale of fate. On one side of the scale was the fate of Achilles. On the other, was the fate of Hector. The fate of Hector sank.
Zeus was forced to accept the will of the Fates.
"Anthony," I said. "When we cannot change the problem, we can try to change our reaction to the problem. Then, we begin to act like the gods... I think that is what these stories are about."
These things do not come easily. But, I think that conversation helped him.
This image of Bacchus and his mythical teacher/companion Silenus, expresses a loving relationship between an adult and child. At it's highest, this mutual respect is seen everyday. However, the opposite, distrust, fear, and disapproval, is often seen as well. The responsibility lies with the adult. Where there is no respect given to the child, insecurity will enter. Where there is the expectation of grand achievements, seeds of self-respect can grow in the child.
As a teacher and parent, I've seen how my attitude towards the child defines my ability to relate to him or her. Do I trust that the child will be a sensitive caring person? If I do, then there is a better possibility that I can offer the same to him. Do I have confidence that he or she will understand, and be able to converse about the material I present in class? Do I expect failure? The adult needs to examine him or herself here.
I was surprised to see an article in the New York Post entitled School pulls ‘Huck Finn’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ over n-word.
I spent close to 20 years as a language teacher to adults and high school students in Asia. I've discussed politics, poetry, parent-child relations, as well as the relations between teacher and student. In Japan we spoke about WWII, Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanjing, and the A-Bomb. In China, we spoke about their feelings towards Japan. There were discussions about freedom of speech in China, and the facade of that same freedom in the USA. We spoke about the massacre at Tiananmen Square. We spoke about the idea of the ugly American, as well as what we have to offer to the world. Before each of these talks, I reminded the class that respect for the other person's feelings and opinions was the only rule I was making.
Healthy conversation can be a bridge between people. What other options would there have been, before pulling two American classics from a required reading status? The language teacher in me looks at the value of such a book. The possibility of conversations and expressions of sensitivity are endless. I envision a multi-racial class of children reading the book, in an open discussion of America's past crimes, as well as how far we still need to go today. Wouldn't it be eye-opening and bonding to have a negro child feel safe to open up about his feelings towards this word, and everything that goes with it? Imagine inviting a negro grandparent into the class, one with memory of talking with their own grandparent, who may have experienced the tale end of slavery. Wouldn't that man or woman have valuable words to offer the children? These words could open the minds and hearts of children on born of either race. It can give a much needed forum for those who suffer the injustices of racism to speak their minds, as well as for those, naive to the pains to try to learn.
By pulling the books off the school shelf, we lose the opportunities that I just expressed. With that, we take away an opportunity for children to grow internally and bond together. I think this comes from the assumption that the child, the teacher, or maybe society, is not mature enough for such a conversation.
In the world of kidlit, we play an active role on sensitive topics. Some of us are parents, some are teachers, publishers, writers, or illustrators. The roles are vast. But what they have in common, is that at our highest, we give from a place of love and respect to the child, and the bond with the child. At our lowest, we hurt these possibilities.
Please tell me how we can discuss sensitive issues with the mutual trust that the other person will also bring his or her highest to the conversation?
In the world of children's literature, we can play an active role our relationship to children. Some of us are parents, some are teachers, publishers, writers, or illustrators. The roles are vast. But what they have in common, is that at our highest, we give from a place of love and respect to the child, and the bond with the child.
The studio was definitely used! The floors had the remnants of earlier rehearsals. That is to say, sheet music and instrument cases lay all around. Various posters advertising past performances hung from the walls. On the piano lay a cello bow and a few other objects d’musica that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. The percussion instruments were in the back of the room and a number of chairs were in place around the conductor’s platform.
A sign on the wall caught my eye. It read, “Why Teach Music?” The text proceeded to explain the various attributes that a music student experiences. It began stating that, as a science, music is exact, specific, and demands exact acoustics. From there, it went on to tell of the mathematics involved, the language and cultural benefits the student gets, and even the physical education the young musician gets in carrying his instruments, coordinating his fingers, arms, lips, cheeks, and facial muscles. Finally, it recognized music as an art through which the skilled musician can express refined emotions.
Inspired to write this article, I began to take notes of my observations. Words I typed into my iPhone to describe the atmosphere were, “Passion, teamwork, excel, performance, junior professional, intelligent, removing distractions so others can concentrate, animated faces, value of form and tradition as self-expression, mentorship, and cooperation.” This was a junior high school music studio, and these children were eager to perfect their performance for an upcoming concert. No one had to force them to value the efforts necessary for the task. It is an attribute to both their teacher Mr. Zalkind, and the nature of the classical arts. When one’s spirit is touched, passion flows like the scent of a rose.
When the young musicians finally came together after practicing in separate sections for most of the class, the sound was magical. I’ve been to a number of classical concerts, and love the music. However, I’d never witnessed the act of practicing for the event, and then playing the piece. Later, to my delight, they began playfully trading instruments. The cellists exchanged with the violinists. A violinist played the bass. It reminded me of the enjoyment I have when I listen to a person conversing effortlessly, as he moves in and out of English and another language.
In the same spirit of camaraderie, an 8th grader named Jakob returned to the studio after his group was let out, and offered to help the next class which was made up of younger, less experienced musicians. They appreciated his instruction, and worked well under his guidance. Jakob took out a tuba, and let each of the children hold it and play it. The flautists could understand it. The percussion students had problems blowing into it, but all were excited to handle the instrument. The young mentor then spoke with the clarinet players about a bass clarinet. I was surprised that some had never seen one. When he took the instrument out of its case, the oohs and ahhs reminded me of Christmas morning in my childhood apartment in NYC.
With less money being given to education in the USA, art programs are often the first to suffer cuts. I am a classically trained painter who knows the value of the fine arts in today’s classrooms. I call out to parents to introduce their children to the finest of the world’s culture. It refines the soul.
This article first appeared in the Territorial Dispatch on November 25th, 2013. It was titled Magic in the Music Room
I visited the Ufizzi gallery in Florence yesterday with the aim to look at Renaissance art from it’s beginnings, through to the 1500s. I began my study in the first room, and visited all of the galleries. In room 2 I stood infant of Madonna and Child Enthroned, by the three artists who each have a valuable place in the movement from Byzantium to the Renaissance, namely Duccio, Cimabue, and finally Giotto. I’d like to look at Duccio and Cimabue today, and then in a separate post, look at the painting by Giotto, as his work is not in the same school as that of the first two artists.
Duccio and Cimabue were seen by some art historians as the fathers the Renaissance, and by others as the last Byzantine painters. During the years that they were active, the church was keeping a strong hold on it’s principles, and the rules by which it’s followers had to live. The portrayal of people and biblical events in a realistic manner was against the church principles, as idolatry was always a concern. The second commandment reads, “Thou shalt not make for yourself graven images.” Although the church used art to educate people on its doctrines, believing in the divinity of graven images was especially possible in the minds of the less educated masses. So, during the Byzantine period, artists expressed themselves through the emotions of the figure, rather than the expression of realism through true perspective, classical proportions, form being created by the use of light and shadow, and finally the study of color. All of this was mastered by the that the ancient greeks and romans. Here we see flattened, geometrically stylized figures that do not take up the kind of physical space that the figures of the High Renaissance take on the picture plane. They are characterized with flowing line rather than solid three dimensional structure. Linear perspective, and the representation of light and shadow were also at a beginning stage during this period of art history.
During this religious/political climate, many of the literati were delving ever more deeply into the ideas of Humanism, which was an avenue of exploration and experimentation. the teachings of the pagan philosophers, and the scientists of the day, began to replace religion as a direction for studying truth.
Duccio di Buoninsegna
Let us begin with Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna from this point of view. The artist delved deeply than any other Christian artist before him in the exploration of human emotions. I feel the spiritual voice of the madonna through the look of surrender in her eyes.This is not only a divine relationship between two people and their roles in Christian doctrines, but it is also the expression of the bond that a mother has with her child. She presents her child to us, knowing his ultimate fate. “Here he is.” Like visual poetry, we see the eyes of Duccio’s madonna almost sliding down her face in sadness, as she tells the viewer. “Take him, and do what must be done.” Maria is sad, but firm. She knows she has been chosen to make this payment. She knows that her son has been chosen as well. The two must find the strength necessary to play their roles with grace.
Cimabue’s Santa Trinita Madonna is similar to Duccio’s painting in that he is experimenting with the thoughts of the newer generation of intellectuals. We see more true architecture, that begins to place the figure inside of a real space. We also begin to see the beginnings of three dimensional forms that turn around in space, and fill clothing with a physical body. Also, as we saw in Duccio’s painting, individual human emotions are expressed in addition to the emotions of the divine realm that these figures belong to. Each person is his or her own person, with an individual psychology expressing itself in this particular moment of their lives.
I feed off of the focus of a group of people trying to learn something. Having been around so much of that in China, I went back to school myself. Now I'm about to do that again, as I start my MFA studies at the Academy this January!
What a wonderful day drawing and meeting with teachers at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. What an inspiring atmosphere! I found out about www.urbansketchers.org It's an interactive blog of urban sketchers. Well, enjoy these drawings from my time at the Academy. This first one is the wizard, from the Wizard of Oz. That was the theme that the two models dressed to.