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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Assessing Our Kids: Impressionism or Realism?

A recent field trip to the museum made me consider how we typify our children’s development: as a parent, are you an impressionist or a realist?

It was a windy and rainy spring day, warm in temperature, only to plummet in late afternoon, perfect timing for a gallery visit. Being homeschoolers, we took a few hours and headed out to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, taking in the Canaletto and Gauguin exhibits, studying artistic styles and learning more about ourselves.

Antonio Canaletto’s works portrayed realistic images, with increasing depth and perspective adding new elements to the art of the 18th century. His Venetian paintings with their evocative cloud formations and light casting shadows not just on the figures, but also on the buildings included: the Basilica in the Piazza San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, a view of the Grand Canal looking north from Rialto Bridge.  Our kids remarked, “That’s where we fed the pigeons!” “That’s where we met the Russian children and the French children!”

As I quietly pointed out the stylistic features to our children, along with an examination of an actual 100-year-old black and gold gondola on display, others added themselves to our group.

“Who can tell me what these metal shapes on the front of the gondola represent?”

“A hand,” says one.

“Teeth,” says another.

“Good ideas,” I acknowledge. “This metal part is called the ‘Ferro de prua’ and is at the prow, the front of all gondolas. They stand for the six sestiere, or quarters of Venice– their neighborhoods, you might say, and the upper part represents the doge’s hat, sideways. Can you see it?”

Visitors nearby started to tilt their heads.

“Mama, these people are listening to you!” Petya whispered.

“Most people do,” I threw my shawl over my shoulder as we strolled to the next stop, Benedetto regaling us with his recitation of the six sestiere as we entered the Canaletto exhibit.

So realistic were Signor Canaletto’s works, that a photo might not show more detail. That’s when we discovered that Canaletto, and others of his contemporaries, such as his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, started with the camera obscura to sketch urban scenes to an exact scale.

It was realism with a definite theatrical aspect inserted:  storm clouds covering the sky, bright shafts of sunlight penetrating, at times. I guess that’s what draws us back to the city of Venice time and again, the Realism combined with theatricality and Expressionism. It also described our post-adoptive family life– we were realists and could see the challenges facing any family taking in a new child, with High Drama following us on a daily basis.

Our time was running out at the museum, but Gauguin was nearby. Should we skip him, or do a speed-through? All agreed on the speed-through, but not before they listened to my instructions.

“Monsieur Paul Gauguin was a painter from the late 19th century, that means the end of the 1800s, pohnyalee?”  The children nodded. “He left France for Polynesia and lived there and on other exotic islands, painting and trying to rid himself of depression.”

I left out the facts of abandoning his wife and five children in Denmark, his attempted suicide, and his womanizing of young native girls. A tortured alcoholic, who was sentenced to prison, and died of syphilis could also wait for another day.

“There will be paintings of native people without clothes– we don’t need to stare at those, right?”  They nodded again. “Instead, we are looking quickly at the bright colors he uses in some of his paintings separated by black outlines of the figures, or the dark blues and purples of other thoughtful pieces. Why does he return to religious themes, if he is not a religious person? Why, as a post-Impressionist painter, does he have a Primitive, very simple and bold style that might lead to Modern or even Cubist art?”

Our kids noted a purple tree in one work, and a yellow Christ in another work, with little perspective. The paintings were often bold and bright and striking. They were emotional, to be reckoned with, and spoke to us.

On our way home, we discussed with the children Realism -versus- Impressionism. Both genres had their own stories to tell. I pondered the realism of the children’s lives– the trauma, the abuse, the neglect in Russia– and the impression that all would be well, as they grew stronger and more confident, day by day.

How do you see your children’s lives? Is it in stark, harsh, black and white, or is there a rosy glow and a splash of sunlight? There’s most likely a time and purpose for both.


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