Last night, Jake called me over to question me about a sculpture he was studying for his art history homework. He was working at the computer, and Riley was huddled next to him. While Jake and Matt are very interested in art, Riley is not, and so I was surprised and happy to see him showing interest in whatever Jake was studying. A little wave of self-satisfied superiority washed over me; my sons: citizens of the art world.
The sculpture they were viewing is a tower composed of 17 cast iron rhombus-shaped modules, stacked one atop the other and rising over 96 feet into the air: Constantin Brancusi’s “The Endless Column.” When viewed from the ground, it seems to disappear into the heavens; it’s a monument to the Romanians who died in World War I, and its structure is a reference to funerary pillars, its rhombus modules are a nod to the concept of axis mundi: the point where heaven, earth, and the four compass points meet.
Jake’s question was logistical: how does this tower stand up? I tell him the tower probably has a deep footer which anchors some sort of pole on which the rhombus modules are stacked.
But, the first thing he thought of when viewing this piece was how its size was engineered, and that brings to mind a quote which is well-known in the art world, one that most art students hear by the time they’ve been through a few studio courses. Rob Roy Kelly, a graphic design professor, once said:
If you can’t make it good, make it big.
If you can’t make it big, make it red.
If you can’t make it red, make a lot of ’em.
If you can’t make a lot of ’em, make it move.
I tell Ri and Jake this, and ask them to think about it in regards to the sculpture they are viewing.
“How much of this piece’s success is due to its scale?” I ask them.
“A lot,” says Riley.
“Why?” I ask.
“It wouldn’t be as cool if it was little,” says Ri.
“So if it was only as tall as this room, would it still be as successful?”
“No,” says Riley. ” I mean, it might still be nice, but it’s cool because it’s so tall.”
I’m so impressed with us. We have sophisticated conversations at my house. I’m an excellent parent.
“Should that matter?” I ask Riley. “If the success of the sculpture is so tied to its size, is it still successful?”
Riley nods, and Jake says, “I hear what you’re saying, but I think this sculpture needs to be big because it’s supposed to draw your eye to the heavens–“
“But Mom?” Interrupts Riley.
“Hold on Riley,” I say. “So it needs the height? The height isn’t gratuitous?
“No,” says Jake firmly.
“OK, then within that height–“
I hold my hand up like a stop sign to Riley, and continue,” –is what this piece saying valuable? How do the other aspects of this piece push it beyond ‘cool?’ “
We are having an awesome moment of art education. We’re conversing about art concepts and design. This is what superior parenting leads to. My children are lucky to have me. I’m an art world mentor.
“I think so,” says Jake, “the rhombus modules–“
“Mom?” says Riley, again. ” I have a question.”
I’m torn. Riley is a big interrupter, and he knows this drives me nuts. But, he’s interrupting this time because he’s so enthusiastic about art. Art! And I can understand being that excited about art. Art reflects and questions and explores everything in life, and so how can one not be passionate about that? It’s cool to see him excited. He’s a sophisticated interrupter.
“Ri, let Jake finish, and then I’ll answer your question.”
“But—” And he starts to point to something else on Wikipedia’s Brancusi page.
“Riley, honey, just a minute, ok?” I don’t want to be so harsh that he gives up and walks away from his interest in Brancusi. Gentle with the budding artophile.
“The rhombus modules,” continues Jake, “are really important to the piece. They signify axis mundi, so the height of the piece is really cool, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
I nod, and smile beatifically. I’ve led my little art sheep through a beautiful, rich pasture of art analysis they would not have ventured through otherwise.
Turning to Riley, I ask, “OK, Ri. What was your question, honey?”
“What does ‘orgasm’ mean?”
Riley points to a paragraph in the Wikipedia article about Brancusi’s sculpture, “Princess X.” “It says here that she couldn’t achieve vaginal orgasm. What does orgasm mean?”
A 2280 word article about a famous sculptor, and my thirteen year old managed to spot and focus on the one paragraph containing the words phallus, vaginal, and orgasm.
This is what superior parenting leads to.