Sharing Wonder: Looking at Art Books With my Daughter

 

"What we need is more sense of the wonder of life

and less of this business of making a picture."

 --Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

 

 We are looking at paintings by one of my favorite artists, Pierre Bonnard.

We are looking at paintings by one of my favorite artists, Pierre Bonnard.

Parenthood is all-consuming; it’s the kind of thing you need to embrace wholeheartedly, or suffer in futile resistance.  Your passion for your children and your passion for your art appear to compete with each other, and it can feel painful.  Maybe this is your struggle.  If so, take heart.  There is a middle path, a path of wonder.  

For the past year, my 8-year-old daughter Nell has been getting up very early in the morning to spend time alone with me while the others are still asleep.  We creep downstairs together quietly and I make some tea and coffee.  Then I let Nell choose one of the many big art books on my bookshelf, stuffed with full-color reproductions of beloved paintings.  And then we sit, slowly turning the pages, talking about our favorite artists, snuggled under our blankets, until the boys came downstairs wanting breakfast.

 Nell's favorite painting by Georgia O'Keeffe,  Red and Orange Hills, 1938

Nell's favorite painting by Georgia O'Keeffe, Red and Orange Hills, 1938

Lately, those mornings are fewer and fewer, as I’ve been trying to fit in some morning exercise for myself.  But we try to have at least one morning a week when we connect in this special way.  It’s wonderful for me to see the paintings through her eyes, to ask her what it is about the paintings that speaks to her soul.  Her fresh perspective invigorates my own understanding of each artwork, and gives me new inspiration.  I am always learning, and my appreciation of art is always growing wider.

In his book The Art Spirit, Robert Henri asks us not to focus so much on "this business of making a picture," or, as I understand it, the egotistical idea that as an artist, I am defined and valued by my material production of Art.  Instead, Henri calls for us to cultivate our "sense of the wonder of life."  This wonder is the real mark of an artist, and who can help us more in our quest for wonder than the children who share our lives?