Hansen: Teach them artfully well

You never know what sticks with kids.

It could be some random, unintentional comment — perhaps made in anger — that later you hear repeated not only word for word but with your own intonation, making you feel like the worst parent in the world.

Then there is the orchestrated teaching, where you put a lot of thought and energy into it, only never to hear of it again.

Last weekend's gun lesson was somewhere in the middle.

I took my boys to the Victor Hugo Zayas exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum, which ends April 29.

They thought it was pretty cool, sort of. You have to remember, they are 15, 13 and 10, raised on every type of virtual gun known to mankind.

The exhibit, which resembles the mangled firebombing of a munitions factory, took some imagination.

So here's the lesson: I tried the swords-to-plowshares thing, but it didn't really fly.

I did my best to quickly explain the gravity of the symbolism, the universal desire for peace, the powerful beauty of … well, you get the idea.

All they wanted to know was when we could go to Husky Boy Burgers.

"Are we done with art yet?" they asked.

"No, we're never done with art. Art is a lifestyle."

They stood in the gallery, shifting their weight awkwardly from one skate shoe to the other, waiting for my next instruction.

"OK, let's go."

I felt a little deflated, to be honest.

Guns, LAPD, boys, art … the perfect equation.

The thing is, I know it's not over.

Two weeks from now, or two months, they will bring home from school a smoking gun, so to speak. The lesson will find its way into a project.

It's happened many times before.

For example, we went to the Tim Burton exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art several months ago. Not long after, my youngest drew a self-portrait for a drawing class that resembled some warped, ghoulish character from the director's twisted mind.

I thought I was going to be called into the principal's office to discuss a psych evaluation.

Recently, I stole an idea from the S Cube Gallery and dangled an ordinary house fan from the living room ceiling rafters. On the grill we tied a string with a black Sharpie dangled to the floor, which we covered in colored construction paper. When the fan was turned on, it started a Spirograph-type pattern.

We left the fan on for hours, then framed the result.

The real impact of that Saturday night exercise came weeks later, when they brought home a tangled mess of a Slinky that imitated the Spirograph pattern. They thought it would look cool sitting on the mantel next to the "fan art."

As a final example, for the

past two years we've been making our own Christmas tree. The first one was flocked and we spray painted it with a half dozen different vibrant colors. We thought about doing it to several trees and selling them in Laguna because they were so unique.

Last year, we literally made the tree out of peg board, string and a disco ball.

It's become a yearly tradition, and they look forward to it.

The point is these projects hopefully have made them realize that art is not just an exhibit or a painting on the wall. It's infused into everything we do.

We want our children to string together moments that add up to a meaningful life because it will make them more interesting people.

The string is the art, the pliable glue that makes connections and helps frame the picture. It gives them context that is defined not by the rules we tell them but by the instincts we've helped cultivate.

If we have succeeded, the outcome will be the beauty they create in art, life and their community.

Or at least that's what sounds good on paper. Last Sunday, of course, it was more about the burgers.

But I'm confident this won't be the end of it.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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