Growing up with a fine artist father

"Oh no!" wailed Mom, throwing up her hands, "Oh my God! This is a disaster."

Typical words we would hear from my mother just about every day. Mom was a tad OCD ... she needed everything clean, precise, and in the right place. The least bit of disorder would drive her nuts — not to mention specks of dirt. So imagine her dismay when she and Papa came home one Saturday afternoon from running errands to discover a mural painted by yours truly, and my sister Gabi, on the dining room wall.

In fairness, we had run out of painting paper that Papa stockpiled for us. So with no paper on our back-to-back easels, but plenty of finger paint left over, how could we possibly resist a blank dining room wall? The dining room did triple duty -- as Papa's evening office, our painting play area, and of course as our dining room. We weren't allowed to paint anywhere else in our two-bedroom railroad apartment in Brooklyn. So we thought we were brilliant in following the rules. No one had ever told us we couldn't paint on the wall.

Papa was thrilled — "Lorraine, look at their use of color! They're instinctively using values and intensity to create focal points. And here, see how they've created depth. Look at those shapes! Look at the perspective." And on and on he went for about 10 minutes, all the while grinning with pride and keeping an eye on Mom's reaction. She was getting more and more freaked out every minute. While Papa couldn't get enough — walking back and forth along the six-foot expanse that reached from floor to about five feet high (I was only 8 at the time) and exclaiming every time he saw something else.

Suddenly, Mom had had enough and went flying into the kitchen. We could hear the water running as she filled up a bucket with hot water and soap. She came out, handed Gabi and me sponges, rags, and bristle brushes and said, "Clean it off the walls, NOW. Or you won't get supper." So much for our artistic endeavors that day. It took us about 30 minutes to clean that wall to her satisfaction. And she wouldn't let Papa photograph what we'd done -- "Don't encourage them Andy."

Unlimited, unconditional support

Papa was always up for doing something creative and fun. He was our favorite playmate and toy. There were strict rules about not touching his "office equipment," which was all the accoutrements you'd expect a creative director on Madison Avenue to have. To remove any temptation, he kept our painting and play area stocked with different kinds, sizes, and colors of paper, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, glue, coloring books, finger paint, rulers — you name it! We wanted for nothing when it came to art supplies. Each day, as soon as I finished my homework, I could happily draw, sketch, paint, color to my heart's content.

Being a partner in an ad agency, Papa and Mom also did a lot of entertaining at home. Papa loved a good party — he was a fabulous host, great bartender (although he couldn't drink much, alcohol made him sick). He really enjoyed people. He was by no means an extrovert -- parties always left him emotionally drained and it would be weeks before they'd host another party. But the people who came were fascinating — commercial artists (called graphic designers today), musicians, photographers, food dressers, make-up artists, sculptors, movie and theater directors, dancers, copywriters, market researchers, executives, even celebrities who were being paid to endorse clients' products. (Remind me to tell you about meeting Cary Grant ... a story for another day.) 

I was horribly shy, but I was fascinated by the conversations Papa would have — about the latest book he was reading (he was a voracious reader, so was Mom). Their political discussions (e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK). New technologies (TV remote controls! Push-button phones! Transistor radios!), the Volkswagen bug (one of Papa's new accounts), the latest Greenwich Village art gallery showing, MOMA and Metropolitan exhibits, Broadway shows — I remember "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" was a hot topic, Cabaret, Fiddler — there was always something new. And then, rock and roll, the Beatles, the Stones and more.


I felt safe wrapping my arms around Papa's leg and following him around as he talked with one group or another. And I got to ask people questions and they took them seriously and answered me. This was unheard of back then. Normally kids were paraded and then sent off to bed. But not in our home. Papa was a feminist long before it became fashionable to be so. He made sure that we were heard by their guests — none of this "children to be seen and not heard stuff." As a result, Gabi and I both had an extraordinary, unconventional, and precious education in life.

What does this have to do with art? I believe from my own experience that exposure to many different people, who are creative and curious in a wide variety of fields, opens your mind. Expands your own creativity. Provokes your curiosity. Creates an insatiable desire to learn. And while you may not have had the same experience I did, it's never too late to create those experiences for yourself.

Food for thought:

  • What creative people do you know? How much time do you get to spend with them? How can you spend more?
  • What creative areas are you most drawn to? Curious about? Who do you know who can give you an intro into that world? How can you get more exposure to it?
  • What one action can you take today to expose yourself to something new that can feed your creativity?