Parents should nurture children’s seeds of talent

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 30, 2014

Let kids make art; great ones all start somewhere

I was a chauffeur for a limousine service in Panama City Beach, Fla., in the mid-1990s. One day I got the call to pick up a film crew at the private airport and escort them around town as they scouted locations. The client turned out to be director Ridley Scott and his team looking at possible sites for what would become the movie “G.I. Jane.”

What struck me as we drove along the beach and toured a nearby Navy facility was how Scott and crew bandied about scenarios as if they were making the story up right there in that 15-passenger van. If you’ve seen the movie, you might conclude they were.

My oldest son, Calvin, and his friends recently had the assignment to produce Act III, Scene III of William Shakespeare’s “Othello” on video for their pre-AP English class at White Station High School. They spent weeks on it, the production time alone deserves an A-plus, and their parents deserve credit as wardrobe consultants, craft services, location scouts, funding and transportation.

One blustery day, as I drove them to Elmwood Cemetery, they were wrapped up in Shakespeare’s tale, dissecting the scene for the drama of it, for camera angles and effects. It was great to see such devotion to a single project. Would they show the same gusto for chemistry or algebra? Probably not. But there very well might be lessons in time management and collaboration learned from hours of planning and discussion that will benefit them in those classes and beyond.

The arts have the ability to elasticize the mind and shake loose the binds from so much focus on schedules, policy and standardized testing.

Prolific author Neil Gaiman, in a 2012 commencement address given at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, implored its graduates to “make good art.” It was a simple request, and quite obvious considering the audience, yet it resonates.

Kids should make art. Whether in school or out, they should make art.

Shelby County Schools announced last week that it would offer every child every meal every day. The healthy development of our children is society’s responsibility, and we should feed their bodies food just as we should feed their minds with math, and we should see that their souls are fed with art.

The 28-minute Othello scene (with gag reel) is immensely entertaining with fine acting and clever camera work. The soundtrack — just as Shakespeare must have intended — is by the likes of Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Rupert Holmes.

I’m sure the opening weekend box office was a smash; I know I watched it twice on YouTube.

Driving the production team of Calvin, Ben, Quinn, Austen and Isaac was quite different from chauffeuring Ridley Scott. The high school students couldn’t afford to buy my lunch as Scott had, nor were any of them smoking the size cigar that he was.

But you have to start somewhere, and that start, more often than not, is in school. The seeds of talent sprout at an early age, and we as parents should try to be aware of it and nurture it and facilitate our kids’ interests any way we can.

Sometimes it means making sure they’re stocked with pencils, paints and paper, and sometimes it means providing a substantial meal. It might mean driving a team of nascent filmmakers across town, or just encouraging them to “make good art.”

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