My 4-year-old, Hank, and I watched a local news story the other day about award-winning class paintings rendered by kindergarteners.
“I guess that’s not bad for 5-year-olds,” I said.
“Why is this on TV, Dada?” asked Hank. He loves to draw, and I proudly cherish all of his renderings (to be saved in perpetuity like relics at the Vatican), but I wouldn’t submit them to the Louvre – not yet anyway.
We millennial parents force fine arts on our kids. We badly want our progeny to be prodigies, but it’s rare for a small kid to declare, “Let’s go to The Broad for the latest Rothko expo.” Museum guests would not likely want your toddlers running around in there anyhow.
If one of our kids did appear to be growing into a wee Picasso, could the parent claim a genetic link to such innate genius? A part of me wants to say yes. My grandfather was an artist, successful enough to make a career of it, as were his sons, so there’s a through-line to my family’s art story. I was always musical, playing piano and guitar from a young age, but Hank loves to draw and “color” as the 4-year old likes to say. I proudly view his latest renditions of police stations, fire stations, Coast Guard helicopters and “jungle zoos.” He also paints a mean portrait of his old man.
When he’s older, I’ll explain that L.A. is an artistic capital of the world. It’s never seriously compared with powerhouse metropolises such as New York, London or Paris, but is vital enough to be in the conversation, especially when you consider its artistic and cultural history and plethora of museums, centers of creative entertainment and true visionaries that call L.A. home. This city uses its underratedness to its advantage, allowing for vital art districts in L.A., Culver City and Long Beach, areas that once offered cheap rent, but now boast high schools specifically designed for artistic-minded teens. In every direction, there’s a special and vibrant place to view the works of great L.A. artists. Allow me to provide a little portrait of my experiences.
My 2-year-old, Leo, admires sculpture. He especially enjoys the Sculpture Garden at LACMA. He aahs and oohs, points and makes silly faces at the sculptures. Perhaps he thinks the art pieces are toys.
We also enjoy the Arts District, which, for all its recent growth and gentrification, remains unique in its welcoming and sizable arts scene. At a recent Alexander Calder exhibit at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Leo accidentally slapped one of the artist’s “mobiles.” The seemingly delicate sculpture oscillated and shifted for about 15 minutes as my wife and I burned with embarrassment. The security guard gave us a solemn look of disapproval. “But he loves art!” I told the people at this posh gallery. I overheard another patron explain, “You know all of these are for sale.”
If you are interested in gallery hopping with the family, Hauser & Wirth is a great place to start. It has a large courtyard and a veranda garden with a coop of colorful chickens. “Not like those black-and-white photos in that creepy room,” Hank says. He is talking about the roomy chambers displaying impressive modern artists. Hauser & Wirth has the feel of a museum and boasts a sweet bar and restaurant.
If you’re looking for a savvy mix of art museums and outdoor space, The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and the Getty Center come to mind. Hank especially likes the Getty Villa, mostly because he enjoys Rococo art. He’s not one for the abstract and modern styles that Leo enjoys; he likes more straightforward representations of girls on swings and boys with powder wigs. This is why another of Hank’s favorite places to indulge in the finer things is the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. He enjoys the gardens and architecture, of course. But he finds their galleries, to use Hank’s word, “hilarious.”
Leo, on the other hand, appears incredibly comfortable immersed in the politically charged art and photography exhibits at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. It’s the Westside’s answer to Hauser & Wirth. The Hammer’s grand courtyard and ample kids spaces have made this a simple way to escape the car horns of Wilshire Boulevard. This place is a win-win and something you won’t have to force on the little ones.
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacParfrey.