Surrounded by the arts

Indulging in the arts is humanising

I’m a strong believer in searching out and supporting diversity in the arts.

I have no problem with the Harry Potter phenomenon, but I think it is also important to surround our children with arts that come from the same cultural context as they do, small-scale artists and artists that speak to us about things we might never have thought of.

Giant globalised brands provide us with a common experience we can use to connect with anyone around the world but the conversations we can have through the diversity of expression at close range is still irreplaceable. As our mainstream media gets more and more homogenised I think it is worth spending the extra effort to seek out some of the other 99% of artists out there.

With the advent of online publishing it has suddenly become simple to plug in to local writers in any genre, for any age group, on any topic. Sure there are plenty of writers that need to pay more attention to the editing process but the rabbit holes you can find yourself traveling through the eyes of authors are too exciting to worry about stacking the kindle with the odd dud.

Susan Day has traveled the world herself and now writes and illustrates children’s books starring some of our favourite furry friends. I recently read Christmas Calamity to my three and each night they begged me to continue – what child can resist a story that starts out with Santa and his reindeer being pulled unceremoniously out of the sky by a dog robot and needing a motley crew of dogs to save Christmas?

I came across Susan Day’s work by chance, and a little goldmine of Astro books opened up. At 75 pages and written for children over eight Christmas Calamity was not a book I could finish all in one night but it kept even my five year old keen for more. There are cute illustrations all the way through but one of the things I love about chapter books is watching the faces of the children I am reading to – the movie in their heads takes them deep into their imagination. They were right there on the sleigh, all of us bumping around as Alfie got the hang of flying the night skies.

Reading promiscuously – feasting on any and all good books you can find on and offline – is probably the fastest and easiest way to provide a curated world trip through history and culture. One of the great gifts my father gave to my brothers and I was to read to us, long past the age we needed to be read to. He read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. All of it. He read Sadoko and the Thousand Paper CranesStorm Boy and the Muddle Headed Wombat. Around the world we all traveled together, far removed from our lounge room. Oh the things we learned, the dreams we dreamed.

I read Sadoko to my children some time ago, and I had to stop. I was inspired to make a thousand origami birds as a child but I don’t remember it being so heartbreaking. This time around, with children about the same age as Sadoko, I couldn’t make it to the end. My youngest couldn’t read yet, my oldest was too wrapped up in the story to break free so my son, just learning to read, took over. My tears dried as I focused on filling in the words he couldn’t read and then I took over again. When I couldn’t go on he carried the story for us until I could see, and so we made it to the end, stumbling off the battle field like a pair of war wounded, all of us silent as I closed the book.

Art is an extension of our unique self-awareness of our self-awareness. It is a neverending conversation, humanity’s brilliant evolution-hack. Sure it has a tendency to navel gazing at one end of the spectrum and overhyped substance-free fluff at the other. But in the middle is stuff that will speak to you, shake you up, change your world and open your eyes.

Somewhere there are musicians, visual artists, authors, dancers and actors who can blow your mind and set you on  path of discovery you never dreamed possible. One of the things I love doing with my children is exploring the arts. I’ve had parents ask for suggestions on movies and shows for their kids to watch. When we don’t have the time or energy to get out to see local talent in person (we live far from anywhere you’d call an arts hub) and we want to spend some time chilling out on Youtube we go exploring the online world of the arts. Cartoonists, comedians, buskers, performance poets, opera singers, jugglers, poppers, you name it we’ve checked it out, one thing leading to another.

This is an amazing world. Be daring – lavish some time and money, and lots of imagination, on the arts.

Tanya Burke is the creator of the Wise Child Happy Child series of practical tools for teaching Emotional Intelligence and co-author of A Doctor’s Dream.

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