The cultural arts fulfill a basic human need for beauty in our lives. A family that deliberately seeks to enjoy the arts enriches their family life. The arts may allow us at once to inspire, instruct, and edify.
When they were first married, John and Carol Drayton of Norman, Oklahoma, agreed that they wanted their children to be acquainted with the masterpieces of music and painting. Together the family listened to recordings, looked at pictures, and read about the artists and the times in which the works were produced.
“There’s no way to know how much our time together influenced their artistic abilities,” says Brother Drayton, “but all of our children enjoy art. Art has created a bond in our family that we cherish.”
Different arts come more naturally to different individuals, so give children the chance to discover what appeals to them most, whether it be literature, music, painting, sculpture, drama, or dance. As the Lord said, “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15.)
The habit of reading has fallen on hard times. We cannot assume that our children will somehow stumble into the enjoyment of reading. We need to expose them to good reading habits when they are young. We will reap great blessings if, even before our children can hold a book or turn a page, we will hold them on our laps and read aloud to them. This will introduce them to the sounds of words, the rhythm of verse, the flow of a story, and stimulate their interest in ideas.
Reading to children will also help increase their attention span, enlarge their vocabularies, and encourage a love of good literature. Such sharing will build stronger parent-child relationships and will help each child acquire moral values and common sense, along with discriminating judgment.
Furthermore, reading aloud with a child is fun, and it can help him gain confidence and competence in his abilities. Drama and poetry are especially effective. One family opens and closes its family home evening with members taking turns reading a memorable piece of literature and telling why they like that piece. Dinnertime is another good time for reading aloud together.
“Good reading begins at the bedside of your little ones,” Elder Marvin J. Ashton counsels parents. “Never be too busy to read wholesome bedtime stories at the close of the day. Select from the classics of children’s literature uplifting stories that can build noble ideals in your youngsters. … Consider the difference in children who are cuddled and snuggled by parents at bedtime as they listen to stories from good books, and then kneel at their bedside in prayer, as compared to those who go to bed after having viewed a violent television program.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 72.)
Music is an international language; good music sets a tone of warmth and self-expression that unites people. Likewise, in our families, good music can bring us together in common emotions. It can set the mood for many family experiences. Family home evenings and gospel study time are greatly enhanced when accompanied by good music, and hymns sung before family prayers can invite the Spirit to be present.
Take time to consider what types of music your family listens to. This might be a good way to discuss the value of variety. Rather than trying to convince a teenager, for example, not to listen to so much rock music, consider a more positive approach. Sit down with your children, list the different types of music there are, and discuss how often family members listen to each type. Suggest that each member vary his or her music diet for the next few weeks. For variety, take one child at a time to a concert for a special evening out.
Children reared in homes where father and mother value good music will be inclined to good music themselves.
Our Church leaders have often counseled us to beautify our surroundings. This we can do by decorating the walls, rooms, and hallways of homes with paintings or reproductions of works of the masters. We can also make our homes reflect gospel teachings as we display photographs of family members, pictures of temples and prophets, and paintings of the Savior. Gospel art is an extremely powerful teacher of ideas and feelings and a daily reminder of eternal principles.
Often called the performing arts, music, dance, and drama are found in all cultures. Many communities offer excellent dramatic programs presented by high schools, colleges, or civic groups. Families often find that attending local dramatic performances is far superior to attending movies. Educational television also frequently broadcasts drama, ballet, and opera, providing opportunities for family discussion.
The word art has been applied to many things not worthy of the name. How is a family to know when something is good art or bad art? Bad “art” as such may not always offend immediately. It may be only after we consider the message it sends that we realize how much it conflicts with gospel values. We would do well to set up a means of evaluating art from a gospel standpoint.
Art can express faith and hope; it can also promote sin and despair. It can glorify God, or it can attempt to replace him. Unless we educate ourselves and our children about the various cultural arts, we will not only be weak in artistic expression, we will also lack artistic appreciation—the ability to discriminate between the moral and the immoral, the well done and the poorly done, the edifying and the degrading.
Just as artistic appreciation, or the need for beauty, is a basic human need, so is artistic expression a natural gift in all of us. It is part of our divine nature to create and to express ourselves creatively. Children do this without urging.
It is sound doctrine that we all do not have every gift. (See D&C 46:11.) A sense of rhythm, the ability to carry a tune, perfect pitch, verbal facility, physical coordination and grace—these are all gifts. Although all of us do not have all gifts, each of us has gifts we may yet develop. “Every son and every daughter of God has received some talent,” wrote President Joseph F. Smith. (Juvenile Instructor, Nov. 1903, p. 689.)
Since every child has capacity for creativity, we will want to instill in our children a desire to express that creativity in individual ways. When we encourage our children to describe in writing, music, art, and dance what they feel, see, or experience, we help them to learn about themselves.
The key to helping each child explore his potential is our knowledge of that child. Few things are more detrimental to a child’s free development of creativity than the parental expectation that all children in a family will have the same talents or express them equally well. Parents need to identify the gifts each of their children possess. They should observe their children’s interests, abilities, and aptitudes in particular areas and provide opportunities, in some form, for development and further expression of each talent.
This often requires sacrifice and practice. But each time a child expresses his talents, he increases his ability to do so, and the discipline obtained in developing a talent influences every part of his life.
Music—Most children enjoy singing, especially if they are sung to when young. Beyond singing, the choice of musical expression broadens quickly to recorded music and to the world of instruments.
Drawing and Painting—As soon as he can hold a pencil or crayon, a child is fascinated with the marks and colors he can place on paper. If nurtured and encouraged, nearly all children can draw or paint pleasing pictures expressing the world as they see it. Some will have outstanding artistic talent, and encouragement from parents will help identify that talent. Give your child the place and equipment to explore this familiar yet ever-new medium of self-expression.
Literature—Writing can be encouraged while children are still quite young. Perhaps the most natural way is to encourage them to keep a journal or to send letters to relatives and friends. Like other talents, writing skills improve with practice. If children don’t yet write—and even if they do—try sitting down with them to tell a story and let each one contribute a part to it. You’ll be surprised at how inventive your children can be!
Drama and Dance—Old clothes, high-heeled shoes, hats, suspenders, and the like can be fertile stimulants to the minds of children. Let them dress up and act out plays for family home evening. You might also try performing simple readers’ theaters, for which no one has to memorize a part. Or play some music and encourage costumed “actors” to improvise: to be a plant flowering in the sun; to be an insect; to show how different colors “act”—blue, yellow, red …
In a family council meeting, decide how you can encourage the appreciation and expression of the cultural arts in your home. This is the best place for children to learn how to bring beauty into their lives. The more they think of arts appreciation, the more they will do it; the more they do it, the better they will be at it. They need only the time, materials, and encouragement to express and satisfy the creative talents they have brought with them into this world.