• How to Be a Fantastic Parent to an Artistic Child: Follow His Lead

    A mom shares her game plan on how to raise her son, a former musical prodigy, and a daughter who draws strange creatures and wears "fursuits."
    by Chary Mercado .
  • When I was a child, I swore I would never make my own children take piano lessons or any music lessons, for that matter. I suffered eight years of piano and never made it past beginner level because I hated it (and, obviously, I had no ear for music). Five years of ballet lessons were also a big mistake. I never made it to en pointe, and I actually never wanted to. 

    Painting lessons were a bit more enjoyable but still--no discernable gift. My incorrigible mother’s solution was to hire more and more famous artists to teach me in the hopes that their greatness would rub off on me. That didn’t work, but it did get me a slot in the National Summer Arts Camp in Makiling. I was about 11, and I registered as a fine arts student. 

    One listless afternoon, I wandered over to see what the theater arts students were up to and inadvertently stumbled onto “my thing.” I shifted to the theater module that very day. In a roundabout way, this exposure to arts in its many forms led me to the right path that gave me some creative fulfillment during my high school and college years.

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    Flash forward to the parenting years, and I now find myself with two contradictions to my grand plan. My son, the older child, was a musical prodigy at a young age. At 2, his ear was so sharp he could distinguish between the different marches of John Philip Souza in one or two notes. He was obsessed with orchestral instruments and dreamt of one day conducting for a symphony that played only Mozart. He begged for violin lessons and then guitar (electric and acoustic), and I obliged.  

    But when school started becoming demanding, his interest waned, or rather it was buried by the avalanche of other demands. While he is still a member of the school orchestra, his love affair with the violin has been whittled down to a chore. It was now just another thing he has to do for school. As a junior in high school, he has a lot on his plate already, and he will have to prioritize his battles according to his goals. 

    He wants to quit the school orchestra next year, and I will let him. If he really has a gift, I am confident it will resurface when he has the breathing room to nurture it.

    Now my second child, a daughter, is an artist through and through. She can draw, paint, play several instruments, sing, and dance. I know it’s not all that unusual these days since many kids do the rotation of summer clinics.  But she has transitioned beyond the levels one would expect of a child. Her series of 20 or so dog portraits last year were very well received by the clients who paid her good money to capture their dog’s likenesses from photos.  Everyone who has seen that series agrees that she is very talented. 

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    Since then, however, her art has taken a most unconventional turn. She now conjures anthropomorphic creatures from her imagination, and draws them in high detail and full color. She may be only 12 years old, but her Instagram following of some 500 plus people includes many artists and illustrators who commend her “OC” or “original characters.”

     In some cases wherein she really identifies with an OC, she actually produces “fursuits” or full head-to-tail costumes of these creatures. She then wears these fursuits to Comic Cons and other anime-type conventions. Strangers are so thrilled by her characters that they actually wait in line to pose for photos with her. I admit I cannot relate to the whole anime, fursuit culture--I am perhaps too old or conservative. But I am aware that there are thousands of people who do respect it and in that subculture, what she is doing has relevance.

     On the music front, my daughter can compose impressive, unique, compelling songs, too. Seeing her produce these works with little to no supervision indicates to me she has a true grasp of music or at least the beginnings of it.

    Unlike my son who thinks of music as a hobby, my daughter wants to major in arts in college. So I have to be deliberate in how I manage her development, so to speak, for her to get into the best arts school she can. I do not mean becoming a stage mother, because her artistic temperament would not stand for that kind of control, nor am I convinced it would be in her best interest at this stage in her life.

    So what does it take to parent an unconventional artist in this modern age? I am not yet in the position to tell you what it takes to succeed, as she is only 12 years old. I can only tell you what my game plan is thus far.

    1. Be an arts enabler.
    I may not understand the end product, or even think it looks nice, but my input is often not solicited. I am there merely to help her make her vision a reality. This entails accompanying her to Divisoria to examine dozens of bolts of fake fur, bags of foam and stuffing, or wired horns or masks, to determine exactly what will suit her purposes best.

    As she is not that adept with the sewing machine and the glue gun, the house help and I have to do the actual sewing and hot gluing to connect the pieces together. She is the director who micromanages us every step of the way, and we just have to accept the role of utusan to help her achieve her masterpiece.

    2. Consult the pros.  
    To coax talent out of a child, or to at least introduce them to the paramaters of sound practice, I recommend getting a good teacher. The more keen or more talented the child is, the more you have to put an effort into finding an excellent teacher. It does not automatically mean the most accomplished, however.  

    I was thrilled that I found a Julliard-trained concert pianist to teach piano to my daughter. But, after a few months, the teacher informed me that while they got along well, she could not teach my daughter the right kind of music for her. My daughter wanted to experiment with sounds and different beats, and the classically trained approach was stifling her desire to improvise and innovate. So I found a teacher who shared her fascination with improvisation, but who also insists that she knows her chords first. It’s a good compromise.

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    3. Keep the mouth shut.  
    It is a difficult calling to be an artist. They put their feelings, skill, and tastes out there to be judged. If the audience responds to their art with unkind words, a shrug or a furrowed brow, the impact can be dispiriting. We non-artists may not understand the meaning, themes or symbols of a piece, nor can we readily appreciate how difficult it was to create. So the safest tack is probably to ask the child artist to explain the work and what the intention was. Don’t provide unsolicited advice like add a ribbon to make the subject “cuter” unless the artist specifically asks for suggestions. It is okay to offer recommendations, but never insist on something the artist is opposed to. As an opinionated person, this is the hardest piece of advice for me to follow.

    4. Promote her work.  
    In the age of Facebook and Instagram, posting your child’s accomplishments is nothing to be ashamed of. When my daughter was fundraising to rebuild her yaya’s house, I had helped her promote her dog portrait services, and it really helped to get her more clients. My husband helps her by being her official handler in the comic conventions when she is practically blind inside the costume and needs someone to guide her through the venue. He ensures people wait in an orderly line for the photos with her. It would be very discouraging for her if we were to be embarrassed or unenthusiastic about her work.

    5. Let her know the sky is the limit.  
    Parents who have dreamt of having a child who is a lawyer, doctor or the next Steve Jobs may try to downplay the artist dream since we fear the arts are not always a lucrative or even financially stable path. But the early childhood years may not be the best time for that kind of reality check. As long as you make it clear that getting a college degree is a non-negotiable goal, I see no harm in encouraging your child to add on other worthwhile goals to that base case scenario. Take your children to museums, art exhibits, plays, concerts and the like so they are exposed to great talent and to the people who pay good money to enjoy them.

    Chary Mercado is an education consultant for teens who spends an inordinate amount of time driving for, negotiating with, and fussing over her two children, aged 16 and 12.   

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    How to Raise an Artistic Child 

     

     

    When I was a child, I swore I would never make my own children take piano lessons or any music lessons, for that matter. I suffered eight years of piano and never made it past beginner level because I hated it (and, obviously, I had no ear for music). Five years of ballet lessons were also a big mistake. I never made it to en pointe, and I actually never wanted to.

     

    Painting lessons were a bit more enjoyable but still--no discernable gift. My incorrigible mother’s solution was to hire more and more famous artists to teach me in the hopes that their greatness would rub off on me. That didn’t work, but it did get me a slot in the National Summer Arts Camp in Makiling. I was about 11, and I registered as a fine arts student.

     

    One listless afternoon, I wandered over to see what the theater arts students were up to and inadvertently stumbled onto “my thing.” I shifted to the theater module that very day. In a roundabout way, this exposure to arts in its many forms led me to the right path that gave me some creative fulfillment during my high school and college years. 

     

    Flash forward to the parenting years, and I now find myself with two contradictions to my grand plan.  My son, the older child, was a musical prodigy at a young age. At 2, his ear was so sharp he could distinguish between the different marches of John Philip Souza in one or two notes. He was obsessed with orchestral instruments and dreamt of one day conducting for a symphony that played only Mozart. He begged for violin lessons and then guitar (electric and acoustic), and I obliged. 

     

    But when school started becoming demanding, his interest waned, or rather it was buried by the avalanche of other demands. While he is still a member of the school orchestra, his love affair with the violin has been whittled down to a chore. It was now just another thing he has to do for school. As a junior in high school, he has a lot on his plate already, and he will have to prioritize his battles according to his goals.

     

    He wants to quit the school orchestra next year, and I will let him. If he really has a gift, I am confident it will resurface when he has the breathing room to nurture it. 

    ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

     

    Now my second child, a daughter, is an artist through and through. She can draw, paint, play several instruments, sing, and dance. I know it’s not all that unusual these days since many kids do the rotation of summer clinics.  But she has transitioned beyond the levels one would expect of a child. Her series of 20 or so dog portraits last year were very well received by the clients who paid her good money to capture their dog’s likenesses from photos.  Everyone who has seen that series agrees that she is very talented.

     

    Since then, however, her art has taken a most unconventional turn. She now conjures anthropomorphic creatures from her imagination, and draws them in high detail and full color. She may be only 12 years old, but her Instagram following of some 500 plus people includes many artists and illustrators who commend her “OC” or “original characters.”  

     

    In some cases wherein she really identifies with an OC, she actually produces “fursuits” or full head-to-tail costumes of these creatures. She then wears these fursuits to Comic Cons and other anime-type conventions. Strangers are so thrilled by her characters that they actually wait in line to pose for photos with her. I admit I cannot relate to the whole anime, fursuit culture--I am perhaps too old or conservative. But I am aware that there are thousands of people who do respect it and in that subculture, what she is doing has relevance.

     

    On the music front, my daughter can compose impressive, unique, compelling songs, too.  Seeing her produce these works with little to no supervision indicates to me she has a true grasp of music or at least the beginnings of it.  

     

    Unlike my son who thinks of music as a hobby, my daughter wants to major in arts in college. So I have to be deliberate in how I manage her development, so to speak, for her to get into the best arts school she can. I do not mean becoming a stage mother, because her artistic temperament would not stand for that kind of control, nor am I convinced it would be in her best interest at this stage in her life. 

     

    So what does it take to parent an unconventional artist in this modern age? I am not yet in the position to tell you what it takes to succeed, as she is only 12 years old.  I can only tell you what my game plan is thus far.

    ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

     

    Be an arts enabler.

    I may not understand the end product, or even think it looks nice, but my input is often not solicited. I am there merely to help her make her vision a reality. This entails accompanying her to Divisoria to examine dozens of bolts of fake fur, bags of foam and stuffing, or wired horns or masks, to determine exactly what will suit her purposes best.  As she is not that adept with the sewing machine and the glue gun, the house help and I have to do the actual sewing and hot gluing to connect the pieces together. She is the director who micromanages us every step of the way, and we just have to accept the role of utosan to help her achieve her masterpiece. 

     

    Consult the pros. 

    To coax talent out of a child, or to at least introduce them to the paramaters of sound practice, I recommend getting a good teacher. The more keen or more talented the child is, the more you have to put an effort into finding an excellent teacher. It does not automatically mean the most accomplished, however.  I was thrilled that I found a Julliard-trained concert pianist to teach piano to my daughter. But, after a few months, the teacher informed me that while they got along well, she could not teach my daughter the right kind of music for her. My daughter wanted to experiment with sounds and different beats, and the classically trained approach was stifling her desire to improvise and innovate. So I found a teacher who shared her fascination with improvisation, but who also insists that she knows her chords first. It’s a good compromise.

     

    Shut the mouth. 

    It is a difficult calling to be an artist. They put their feelings, skill, and tastes out there to be judged. If the audience responds to their art with unkind words, a shrug or a furrowed brow, the impact can be dispiriting. We non-artists may not understand the meaning, themes or symbols of a piece, nor can we readily appreciate how difficult it was to create. So the safest tack is probably to ask the child artist to explain the work and what the intention was. Don’t provide unsolicited advice like add a ribbon to make the subject “cuter” unless the artist specifically asks for suggestions. It is okay to offer recommendations, but never insist on something the artist is opposed to. As an opinionated person, this is the hardest piece of advice for me to follow.

    ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

     

    Promote her work. 

    In the age of Facebook and Instagram, posting your child’s accomplishments is nothing to be ashamed of. When my daughter was fundraising to rebuild her yaya’s house, I had helped her promote her dog portrait services, and it really helped to get her more clients. My husband helps her by being her official handler in the comic conventions when she is practically blind inside the costume and needs someone to guide her through the venue. He ensures people wait in an orderly line for the photos with her. It would be very discouraging for her if we were to be embarrassed or unenthusiastic about her work.

     

    Let her know the sky is the limit. 

    Parents who have dreamt of having a child who is a lawyer, doctor or the next Steve Jobs may try to downplay the artist dream since we fear the arts are not always a lucrative or even financially stable path.  But the early childhood years may not be the best time for that kind of reality check. As long as you make it clear that getting a college degree is a non-negotiable goal, I see no harm in encouraging your child to add on other worthwhile goals to that base case scenario. Take your children to museums, art exhibits, plays, concerts and the like so they are exposed to great talent and to the people who pay good money to enjoy them.  

     

     

     

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