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The Arts

By Leslie Graff


I pushed “play” on the old silver cassette player as my parents kissed me goodnight and closed the door to my bedroom. I lay there alone in the darkness covered with my cool, fresh sheets, and listened to the clear familiar wail of the clarinet that opened Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. As an eight-year-old, I listened to Rhapsody in Blue every night. I never tired of it, even though I could anticipate each note. It was my song.

My three-year-old escaped from the gallery. I chased after him only to find him standing alone by a sculpture in the stairwell at the MoMA. Something in it captured him. He circled around it transfixed, gesturing, tracing the arcs of the forms. Squatting low, he analyzed it from every angle. I stood back, watching, not daring to interrupt his experience.

I seem to be reminded of the impact of the arts on the spirit at every turn lately. I watched a PBS special on the Chautauqua Institution which extolled the virtues of this magical experience and place, the beauty found in being enmeshed in a community, if even for a short time, where people were engaged in the creation and appreciation of the arts.

On NPR I heard a feature on the promotion and celebration of the arts during JFK’s presidency. This quote by President Kennedy struck me the most:

I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for the victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

“Contributions to the human spirit”…those words continue to hang in my mind and I am reminded in a world of force and power that some of the greatest power lies in the simple beautiful acts of creation. There is something in the visual buzz of colors on canvas, the exalting crescendos of music, the rhythmic word cadence of a poem, the captivating narrative of a book, the embodiment of an experience in a play or a film that seems to dance in our consciousness. Art is personal if it touches our spirit in a unique way. It lifts us, exalts, makes us feel the depth and measure of our experience. I believe in God because of the testaments of great art created by man. I know He is a God of creation and beauty.

The arts have a way of stilling or enlivening our souls, in resonating with our humanity and divinity. They serve as companions through the experiences of our lives.

As an artist, nothing is more meaningful to me that when someone tells me a piece I have created has moved them. I treasure the personal notes I get from buyers telling me about their connection to a certain piece. That is my greatest motivation to paint.

Most people agree they love the arts but often find the arts don’t figure as prominently in their lives as they’d like. Symphony, ballet, and theater tickets are expensive. There is no public library of great art that you can check out and hang on your wall. It’s hard to get to, or far away, or our schedules don’t permit.  So how do we carve a space and give priority to this soul nourishing element in our lives?

How do the arts figure in your life? How do you explore or promote the arts? What works of art have made deep impressions on you? What are your favorite genres?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

15 thoughts on “The Arts”

  1. Having long admired YOUR paintings online I was excited to see you have some work at the DC visitor center show. I am planning to go see that very soon! That's how I get my art "fix," go to as many art shows,exhibits and museums as I can. Usually free, and so inspiring.

  2. Our family has been extremely blessed to live in a university town- the opportunities for cheap and excellent theatre, opera, art exhibits, senior recitals, ect are varied, and uplifting. We have taken our children from the time they are old enough to sit still to all kinds of events. As a consequence they have a great love for the arts.

  3. My husband is the Managing Director of a professional theatre company in the South. So, well, Arts is our life. Our kids have literally been raised on the stage.
    However, our profession has not been welcomed by our LDS ward family. Many think we live in sin while producing theatre that they deem immoral or unworthy.

  4. I love this question–this is something I'm still working out for me and my family (my kids are still pretty young). Growing up, I loved literature and art (still do), but music is something that escapes me sometimes. My husband, on the other hand, is an audiophile, so we tend to balance out pretty well that way. In college, I had the opportunity to go backpacking through Europe, and the museums were always first on my list. After my mission, I dragged my brother back to Europe and I still remember wandering through Rome in search of an obscure little church that had two stunning Caravaggios.

    But that kind of arts appreciation is much easier when you're single (and don't mind staying in youth hostels!). We currently live in a small town and although there's a university here it doesn't bring the same kind of talent that we enjoyed in graduate school. And my kids are still too young to sit through performances. I'm hoping, though, as they get older, to be able to take them to museums and concerts and plays and give them a sense for the kind of artistic and dramatic beauty that you describe so well here.

  5. I think we saved up some money to attend a discounted admission day at a Portland art museum one year. They had an Escher exhibit that we wanted to see. I could have lingered a lot longer, but our youngest just didn't have the stamina. Even the older kids had little patience – we were almost jogging through.

  6. I love art and it is everywhere! If you want it, it is there for the taking, and even for free. In our area there is a lot of public art- murals, architecture, and sculptures. Part of exposing your children to it is being conscious of it, and pointing it out to them.

    You don't have to attend a play every month for children to appreciate the arts. I took my daughters to see the Nutcracker several years ago. They talk about it every Christmas season. They have performances at school and go on field trips to plays and etc. There are even performances on TV. Sometimes a movie can count as the arts too!

    Books are a great resource too!

    Making art is the best way for children to see the value (adults too). I hate to think that there are homes out there without crayons, paper and glue! Doing family skits are so much fun too!

  7. I love visiting museums and seeing plays when our schedule permits.

    I think one of the best ways to expose children to great art is to read to them a lot. Children's books have amazingly diverse and beautiful artwork.

  8. I love this topic (and your post & your art!) I was fortunate to have parents who loved to take us to museums and plays and concerts. And in our town library you could check out great art! My mom hung the "checked-out" painting next to the dining room table and we got to experience a wide range of famous paintings-many that I knew through a game about forgeries (can't remember what it's called).

    I love all the arts–I was a Humanities major! And a dancer and a writer and an artist.

    This week I am making lanterns for New Beginnings. I want the eight lanterns made from bamboo and tissue paper to inspire the girls with this years' theme of seeking after good things (and to remind them of the YW values!) And since we had a snow day today I have another week to work on them!

    I have always found a great depth of joy and love in the truths spoken through art. And recently realized that creating art is a service to others (at least I feel served by experiencing uplifting art/creations).

    Thanks for your thoughts and experiences, Leslie!

  9. To answer another of your questions, what works of art have inspired me:
    After reading Irving Stone's The Agony & the Ecstasy about Michelangelo (or was that the book about Van Gogh?), I got to see the Pieta and the David in person and was 100% moved through the expression and exquisite portrayals created in marble. I also read about Van Gogh (The other book by Irving Stone-I'd look them up but I'm not at my computer and my smart phone isn't that smart) I loved seeing Van Gogh's paintings in person in Paris. I still feel a little bad and lucky to have touched on of his paintings. Van Gogh and the impressionists have been among my favorites since high school.

    I'm also lucky to live near NYC and have been to the Met a few times (considering I have five kids and it's an hour drive three times is good!) I love going there. But I can't help saying every time I go: "Look what people could do before they wasted all their time watching tv and playing video games!"

  10. Melissa MC, I'm so sorry that your ward family has such a negative opinion of your husband's profession. If I remember correctly, didn't Brigham Young actively encourage theatre productions in SLC?
    I think plays are wonderful. Its a very different experience seeing a play than reading a book. You see things in a different light and new perspectives are opened to the audience.

  11. I have distinct memories of seeing original Van Gogh paintings — one of the Sunflowers in London and Starry Night in New York and having very real spiritual experiences. I've had similar experiences seeing Monet and the other masters. To me, being in the presence of original art is almost sacred. Seeing the brush strokes and the original colors (rather than in a print) is very moving for me. I could spend my life in museums.

    "The Arts" don't play a huge role in my life right now — having little children makes it hard to go to symphonies, ballets, and theater productions, but I want to make it a part of our lives as soon as they can sit still for a while longer.

    However art DOES play a huge role in my life. I love having art in my home (especially yours, Les!), and my children are always creating. My middle son can take a cardboard box, pens, scissors, tape, and construction paper and make a masterpiece — guitars, houses, airplanes, space ships, you name it. I love giving them art supplies and free reign to trash the house in pursuit of a project.

    Great post!

  12. Among other things, it was da Vinci's "Madonna of the Rocks" that finally convinced me to major in Humanities. I have less time for the arts now than I would like but I have made a point of hanging prints of my favorites (I LOVE Jan van Eyck's work) in our home and I read a lot–sometimes even when I am (guility admitted) watching a sporting event for one of my children. (I pay closer attention when it is one of their CONCERTS though. :))

  13. When I was growing up, my mother, who loved fine art and art history and had a small budget, purchased post cards of great art. Those post cards got posted on walls, flipped through, discussed and made into matching games over the years. She also checked out big art books from the library. Decades later I spent time in a museum in Germany and recognized old friends from my mother's collection of cards. That was a delight.

  14. Both of my parents are artists and I'm grateful that they took the time to introduce art to us as children. Although I don't have any of their talent I really appreciate art now as an adult.

    One of my favorite things to do is go to a symphony or theater production or art museum. Sometimes I can get reduced prices and I take advantage of those opportunities, though they don't come as often as I would like.

    Some of my favorite artists are Mary Cassatt and Minerva Teichert. I love the art in books too (mostly children's books). I now need to find ways to incorporate art more in my life.

    Thank you for this post.


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