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What Makes an Artist Family?

It’s an interesting question and one that has actually been studied. Surprisingly, there is a long history of debate over if creative talent is something you’re born with or something that is acquired. The research overwhelmingly declares - it’s a bit of both. Though before you have an artist family, you first need an artist. In our case, we started with two.

My husband, Ron, and I were seeped in living an art-filled life long before we had children. So, when Ron and I started our family, I don't think we knew any other way to be. We shared our love of art with our kids from the time they were babies, and when we started homeschooling, we knew the arts would be central to their education.

By the time our first daughter, Mona Rae was two, we knew she was an artist. Her intuition for mark making, composition, and story telling was astounding in someone so young. It was obvious that Mona was employing innate creative abilities. She is a born artist.

Mona's first large scale painting at 2 years old / 36" x 60", acrylic on canvas

By contrast, Mona’s younger siblings, Jackson and Georgia, have slowly acquired and developed their talents over time. Georgia in particular has really begun to blossom into a great talent and has applied her creativity to traditional visual arts, digital art, and baking. Given the fact that she has one usable hand that has been reconstructed three times, her skill level is very impressive.

But does all of this talent under one roof make an artist family? Maybe, but I think there’s more at play. All artists at some point, regardless of being born with talents or having acquired them, require arts education and training in their craft. You have to understand the rules so you can challenge them. As Picasso once said, learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist. My children may have been born with natural talents but I have played a large role in shaping them as artists.

I knew from the moment I was pregnant that I would home educate my children with a heavy emphasis on the arts. I was fortunate early on to have been introduced to Waldorf education by a friend and I knew that would be our path. So, when Mona started first grade, I happily followed the Waldorf curriculum and did all of the prescribed projects with her. I didn’t deviate much from the curriculum until one particular lesson in fourth grade.

That lesson was called, Man and Animal. In it we looked at all of the ways that humans and animals are similar, and then we looked at what makes us different from the animals - the human hand and the creative human mind. No other animal makes art for art’s sake. I remember reading that statement. It awoke something inside me and was a pivotal moment in my homeschooling. I was compelled to go beyond the curriculum and add an art component that I felt was important. I needed to show Mona Durer's Praying Hands, Escher's Drawing Hands, Michelangelo's Hands of God, and daVinci's Study of Hands. Those beautiful works of art showed her what human hands were capable of. Plus, the addition of the artworks so perfectly illustrated the lesson! I then had Mona draw her own hand, which she enthusiastically tried, and did a fantastic job.

After that lesson, I started inserting art into all of our lessons. Especially when it came to history. I felt very strongly that if we were going to fully understand a particular culture, it was imperative that we include the study of their art. And not just look at their art, but attempt to make that art as close to historically accurate as possible given modern materials. So, when we studied the Greeks, we made mosaics; during our Egyptian studies we made papyrus (with papyrus leaves ordered from Egypt!); the Middle Ages gave us projects in stained glass and illuminated pages; and the Renaissance gave us a fresco painting. From ancient to modern, we continue to explore history one art project at a time. Of course we are also studying all of the important dates, major players, wars and movements. Though the most striking thing to me, and the point I make to my kids all the time is, that no matter what atrocity humans have lived through, they have always made art. To me, that’s astonishing and says something about the spiritual nature of what it means to be human and an artist.

So, what makes an artist family? A little DNA and a whole lot of study, being surrounded by art and artists, and the act of doing and making and trying every day. It has been my experience that this just may be the formula. It pretty much describes our family and as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I invite you to view all the art portfolios of the Chido Gross Family and see for yourself:

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