The First Steps


Jack is dressed and heads off to three years of age. He goes to his preschool twice a week for four-hours a day. He is beginning the process called formal education, which will continue for at least the next two decades if not more. He has been involved in the formal education process for months. He learns social skills, cooperation, sharing, working together, and the necessary tools to enter kindergarten.

All of us remember our first day at school. Fear mixed with excitement. I can remember sending off my three children for their first day. However, as a grandparent, it is different. If you aren't as old as the hills, you will think that you know what I feel...but you don't. I didn't years ago. However, you absorb more of the moment and differently. Age and experience provide more of a canvas of life to place these milestones. Trust me. In time, you will understand. In the meantime, let me share with you some of what I have absorbed from Jack.

Jack and now his one-year-old brother, Owen, love to look at the pictures of themselves on my website. One day, I was telling Jack about famous painters. I wanted to find out where he was in his ability to differentiate between painting styles. I had printed three Claude Monet impressionist paintings and one by the Russian modernist Marc Chagall. I picked three water lily paintings by Monet and I and the Village by Chagall. I had a poster of that Chagall painting in my dorm room back when I was in college a half century ago.

I put all four pictures out in front of Jack and asked which one was painted by a different artist. I wanted to find out whether his brain had gotten to the place where he could see that one of the painters painted differently. Jack was two years old at the time. I didn't know whether he could see the differences. Nevertheless, Jack probably got many of his IQ genes from my side of the family.

I asked Jack to look at the pictures and try to figure out which one was painted by a different artist. Jack, a first born, took this learning experience seriously and slowly looked at all four paintings. Then it happened. He ignored my questioned, but picked up Chagall's painting. It captivated him. He stared at it attempting to take it all in.

I And The Village

I And The Village

The Chagall painting captivated him, and I was absorbed also in the moment. He stared at the painting, and I stared at him. For a moment time seemed to have stopped for both of us. I love paintings and have been enthralled with many of them, but Jack in that moment was mesmerized by I And The Village.

I wrote about that moment in an article for my website. The following week on our weekly trip to Indy to babysit, we go through the same routine of Jack wanting to see pictures of him and his brother in articles that I had written.

I had the article about his reaction a couple weeks prior up on the computer screen and slowly scrolled through the text and montage of pictures of Owen and him. Then some more text and slowly the Chagall painting appeared. I wanted to observe his reaction. His first reaction a couple of weeks ago wasn't a fluke. He again became entranced. I wish that I could get inside his mind to know why. Jack just focused on the painting like he had a couple weeks ago. Nonetheless, Chagall would be proud at Jack's love for that painting.

I then told him about my favorite artist of all times...William Turner and his world famous The Fighting Téméraire, which was also in that article. I explained the painting to him and told him to watch carefully the short ending video, which he did. That entire learning process took about a half hour. It was one of the best educational moments that I have ever had in over two decades of teaching at the college level...and Jack is a 3-year old.

The Fighting Téméraire

The Fighting Téméraire

Here was a student that wanted to be in the classroom, his dining room, and wanted to learn. Then one weekend he and his parents visited us in Crown Point. Jack loves my office with three large screen monitors...with a picture of him as the background. While there, he noticed a print on the wall of Turner's The Fighting Téméraire. He called to me, "Papa, this is the same picture that you showed me..." Okay, the kid is a genius.

This is an aside, but I take pictures from all our travels around the world and have many of them on the walls of the house. Over my desk, I have an invitation to President Obama's first inauguration that is framed, under it is a picture that I took of Obama while campaigning nearby, and under that a picture that I took of the statue of Leonidas at Thermopylae, Greece. While going through my Facebook page, Jack noticed the picture was the same one above one of the monitors.

Now, back to teaching art to Jack... I love teaching. Whenever a student wants to learn, I am more than anxious to oblige...especially my grandson. Therefore, while in Indy, I have begun the process of slowly introducing Jack to artists. This past week, we did work on Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-Impressionist.

Al and Jack looking at art

Two of my favorite paintings by van Gogh are the two called The Starry Night and Starry Night Over the Rhone.

Al and Jack discussing art

While The Starry Night has long been one of my favorites of van Gogh, the Starry Night Over the Rhone has a particular feeling for me. We live on a small lake. When I go to bed every night for over a decade, I look out the bedroom window and see across the lake to see essentially what van Gogh painted. I was here telling Jack how I related to this painting by showing him van Gogh bedroom.

Al and Jack discussing Starry Night

Jack has no idea of the art history that he will get prior to entering first grade. One of the interesting things about art history is that it is a vast tapestry upon which much of the actual history of the time in which it was painted is reflected. Jack and soon Owen will get the history of art and have in hand the matrix for relating it to history.

Nevertheless, it is a fun adventure for both of us. Louie would be proud of me. Thank you, Louie, for doing with me what I am doing with Jack.

This video emphasizes the importance of teaching humanities in a technological world.