May 17 2021 Explore, Bond, Create: The Power of Art
“Art has the role in education of helping children become themselves instead of more like everyone else,” notes early-childhood educator and author Sydney Gurewitz Clemens.
For kids, a meaningful art experience is immersive. Whether the medium is Play-Doh, watercolors or fabric, anyone who has spent an afternoon making art with their grandkids knows its vast potential to illuminate the richness of Jewish life and traditions. Through books, the internet, or museum outings, grandparents can also be a guide to iconic works, from those of Marc Chagall to Judy Chicago, that tell the Jewish story.
Developing Life Skills
Beyond fun and bonding, creating art nurtures a range of skills including communication, problem solving, social and emotional skills, and motor skills—along with self-expression and creativity. Art is a language. When grandparents plunge in, letting go of control to embrace its joyful mess, art is a conversation and a generational bridge. It’s an enduring gift when grandparents weave into this experience exposure to, and discussion of great art. When adults care enough to consult them, kids can be hilariously candid art critics.
Making the Past Relevant
According to the 2019 National Study of Jewish Grandparents, 70 percent of grandparents want to teach their grandchildren about their Jewish heritage and relay Jewish values to them. Art opens door upon door: Examine treasured family holiday or ritual objects, like a Kiddush cup or an afikoman bag. Watch favorite Jewish-themed movies together. Share the songs of Jewish musicians or forage public library shelves for coffee table books on Judaica. Allow children to lead the way; learn what grabs them and why.
Culture Is Cool
How can we make Judaism “cool?” We don’t have to! Jewish culture delivers a wealth of captivating, timeless stories beautifully illuminated through the arts. Leave the Soutine on the shelf a while to join the grandkids in an exploration of Jewish artists and musicians like the Canadian rapper Drake.
Adding Another Layer to Family Events
Jewish learning through art is often thought of as crafts for kids. But when grandparents and grandchildren create a pottery seder plate together or make decorations to welcome guests to a sukkah, the experience bridges the generations.
While exploring the paintings of masters like Chagall, the architecture of Louis Kahn, or the music of Ladino rising star Sarah Aroeste, people of all ages can find meaning and joy in the arts while perpetuating Jewish culture.
Laura Mandel is Executive Director of the Jewish Arts Collaborative (Boston).
Gerald Slavet is Co-Founder of From the Top—a non-profit organization that works with teenage musicians in communities that have limited access to the arts and features those musicians on an NPR radio show and podcast.