Moms hold the key for young artists: Reporter's Notebook


I know a very talented, self-taught musician, who works a blue-collar job when he’s not unemployed, who could have been the next Bob Dylan. When he plays, the world stops and I melt. 
Sadly, he confided, his father would say, “If you’d put half the time you spent playing that guitar into your schoolwork, you wouldn’t be such a bad student.” He lived out those words, earning low grades in school and dropping classes in community college until he finally left college all together. 
Meanwhile his mother was more into herself than her children, and pretty much neglected her little musical guy. To no surprise, he never did much more with his music than compose a few songs written on a spiral notebook, now yellowing in a guitar case. 
It kills me to think of what would have happened if his father handed him a sandwich and encouraged him to practice longer, or his mother sat and enjoyed the music he made, or bought him some picks or some new strings for the cheap guitar handed down from his brother. Or if they listened to music around the house or took him to an acoustic gig or encouraged him to work a job to afford a record collection. 
I could write more words than my editor allocates for this column on my favorite subject: educational philosophy (a.k.a: recognizing children’s superpowers), but since we hold to a word count, I’ll borrow a principle from writer/researcher Malcolm Gladwell, which holds that one must spend 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field. Toss in some luck, a pinch of talent and some grit, and maybe an awesome teacher or two, and voilà– a “successful” adult. 
Like that kid on YouTube, who has gone viral, says, “What do you practice? That’s what you’ll be good at.” 
I would just like to add one more booster to guarantee success: A supportive mother. Case in point: Beethoven (abusive, alcoholic dad/but mom loved his music). The list goes on... 
The reason I ponder this is because I spend most of my spare brain chatter tossing around how best to raise my sons, who, all three, have artistic spirits and hard drives. 
One an actor. One a comic and artist. One a writer and teacher.  
In between the grind and the hustle, how do we mothers best support our children? (P.S. Dads – if you are the main mama in the family I’m asking you too!). 
Which school is right? How much of school is necessary? Must we hire a tutor? Why so much busy work/homework? Why is school so long? How can I limit the technology to maintain a constant plow of creative thought in the house? Hey, I accept my kid for who he is. Isn’t that enough? 
I have noticed an interesting pattern in the “successful artists” I have been interviewing… especially, most recently, Pixar animator Mike Venturini, a Paso native and father of three [P.8, this issue]. I know it sounds too easy, but practically every artist and creative I’ve interviewed — and I’ve chewed the fat with hundreds in my career — revealed to me the secret pat on their bottoms out the door and into the real world — the thing that got them moving — was encouragement from their mothers. 
It should be more scientific and expensive, right? Like don’t we need get our children tutors so they get straight A’s so they can get into Pratt or Julliard, and break our backs to pay for expensive art camps and violin lessons?
Venturini, like so many others, did not attribute his success to those colleges or expensive classes and camps. All that mumbo jumbo helps, but the real good stuff is plain old genuine interest in your child’s artistic pursuits.
Apparently, said Venturini, helping your child become a successful artist is very simple – a two-part combination: first, the child needs to be willing and encouraged to put in as much of himself that he can (110 percent) into his art (like the Malcolm Gladwell principle of 10,000 hours). Second, the mother or parent, simply needs to model a genuine appreciation for art. They need to value it. This could go for any interest (biology for instance, or farming). 
In Venturini’s case, his mother, a former preschool educator, made art in the house as prevalent as food in the cupboards. She, along with the rest of his family (dad, grandma, uncle), made art a daily practice. When Venturini started drawing all the time, his mother provided him with paints. He could draw for hours and hours and his mom considered that time well-spent, and encouraged his interest. When his interest in art was competing with sports and other activities in school, his mother carved out time for him to make his art so that he wouldn’t lose sight of it. You better believe the household had shelves full of art supplies and conversations about Michelangelo’s sculpture and He-Man animation, just as a supportive biology-lovers house might have conversations about the latest health studies and have a medical skeleton in their office space.
 I don’t think we need to put all the pressure on teachers. Support for the spiritual quest begins and blossoms at home.  
And if your mom or whole family positively encourages that interest, the sky is the limit for that young hopeful. Pratt or no Pratt. They will be successful. I believe if every parent, or even one parent in each home did that, we would have a more authentic world, filled with happy adults and connected souls. And more art too. 

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