If your children were anything like my three kids, you rarely saw the serene inside of an art gallery or a quiet a museum – at least until they were past their clumsy pre-teen years.
Still, there are many good reasons for Catholic parents to expose their children to the fine arts. According to CatholicMom.com, studies have shown the intellectual benefits of stimulating a child’s brain through the fine arts, whereas constant exposure to the simplistic and base entertainments may inhibit their growth.
Of course, a love of the arts – sacred music, writing, sculpture, painting, and architecture – is a lifelong gift we can give our children, and one that will improve the quality of their lives.
So how can parents wrest smartphones and game controls from their kids long enough to expose them to sacred art?
The answer to that question varies with each family, but the Catholic Mom website provides some suggestions. In a recent blog, it recommends beginning with pictures that reflect what you love about your faith and sharing them with your children at bedtime each night. Discussions about the art can include topics such as how the artist used color, lighting, and movement to depict energy and emotions, as well as prompting kids to tell the story the picture portrays.
Beginning with pictures of Bible stories, children can get hooked on learning about the artist, the period the art was made, and where the art is now displayed, Catholic Mom says. For parents who want a deeper dive into religious art, the site recommends subscribing to “The Magnificat,” a monthly publication that provides a spiritual guide to help develop prayer and spiritual life and often contains full-color works of art accented with thoughtful critiques based on Church history and faith.
“As your family learns to appreciate sacred art in all its complexity, beauty, and truth, children will also nurture a deeper appreciation and passion for the Catholic faith itself,” Catholic Mom says. “Eyes and hearts open to Catholicism’s deeper mysteries and a whole new world will be revealed in glorious ways.”
In an article adapted from the book, “77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids,” the Peanut Butter & Grace website confirms that the Church has long used sacred art to proclaim the Gospel and to help people to pray. The site recommends using sacred art as a way of practicing Meditative Prayer, using tools like icons, a tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Icons use highly symbolic “language” to engage the viewer in prayer, the site notes. In fact, the artist (or iconographer) is said to “write” the icon, and the viewer is called to “read” the language of the icon with her heart. Icons usually depict some holy person – Jesus, Mary, or the saints – gazing directly at the viewer. It is through those gazing eyes that the viewer is intended to pass through the painting itself into a mystical encounter with God.
When it comes to older kids, they may want to spend time meditating on how God might be speaking to them through a chosen sacred artwork. Which figure do they most identify with? Why? How would they participate in the scene?
Asking the Holy Spirit’s guidance is a good way to begin when learning any new skill, including an appreciation for sacred art. People of all ages want to talk about the feelings the art sparks in them, or why the artist used a specific medium or tone to tell the story. If they were the artist, how would they depict the subject differently, and why?