A culture snob at 5

Not long ago my daughter Cordelia and I went on a homeschool group field trip to the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe. They had just about every kind of figurine imaginable, and the pieces were displayed in really inventive settings. Though high art is more my taste than folk art, I was quite impressed. Cordelia, however, could do nothing but complain. The exchange went more of less as follows:

Cordelia: “I thought we were going to a museum.”

Me: “This is a museum.”

Cordelia: “Where are the statues?”

Me (pointing at some of the painted folk art statues): “Those are statues.”

Cordelia (dismissively): “Those aren’t statues. They’re dolls.”

Me: “They look like dolls because they’re painted. This kind of art is called folk art, and sometimes the statues do look like dolls.”

Cordelia: “I want to see statues like the ones at the Getty Museum.”

Me: “Those are Greek and Roman statues. They don’t have any Greek or Roman statues at this museum.”

Cordelia: “Well, I like the Greek and Roman ones better.”

I like the Greek and Roman ones better, too, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of Greek and Roman art in New Mexico, so we make do with what we have. Growing up in LA, I took high culture more or less for granted. Once I moved to Santa Fe, all that changed. Part of me (the Roman historian part) is happy that my daughter is already discriminating enough to think that classical art is better than folk art, but another part of me (the Mom part) thinks it’s a little sad that my child is already too sophisticated to be enchanted by cute little painted folk art statues.

I wonder whether Lew Wallace had young children while he was governor of New Mexico back in Billy the Kid’s day. Wallace was the author of Ben-Hur, and after his stint in the Palace of the Governors here in Santa Fe, he moved on to Constantinople, a city of ancient Greek and Roman splendor if ever there was one, to serve as ambassador to the Ottoman Sultinate. I wonder if he missed high art while he was here, and whether his children did, if he had children. Maybe he had his own collection. I’ll have to get a biography of him and find out. It would be nice to read about another kindred classical spirit who spent time in my new home town.

I occasionally wonder whether any of my daughters will become a classicist or ancient historian. I try not to encourage them too much, since my husband would prefer a more practical path in life for them. My eldest, Elizabeth, says she wants to be an archaeologist, but at the moment she’s more interested in Egypt than in Rome. Both she and Cordelia used to demand, “Tell us about the Greeks and the Romans!” every time we drove somewhere in the car. I told them every kid-friendly Greek and Roman story I could think of, and then moved on to the less kid-friendly ones, bowdlerized as best as I could. Elizabeth’s favorite is the Judgment of Paris, and Cordelia’s the abduction of the Sabine women. Tessie’s still little enough to prefer the Lorax, but I suppose she’ll be demanding the labors of Herakles before long.

Comments 6

  1. Grue in the Attic wrote:

    While Norse was always more my thing, I still enjoy the Greco-Roman stories and legends all the same. What can I say, I’m a mythology buff. Babylonian and Egyptian come next in line; I’m the only person I know (offline anyway) who has actually read what’s available to read of The Epic of Gilgamesh and enjoyed it.

    As far as favorite stories… from the Greco-Roman set, I’d have to go with Sisyphus, only because I love the irony of his final punishment. Overall though? The Norse story of Utgarde-Loki and his Feats of Strength for Thor, Loki, and Pjalfi.

    Posted 10 Feb 2009 at 9:55 pm
  2. Martha Brozyna wrote:

    Why not encourage your daughters to do both? They can always double major in college — do one major in a practical subject and do another major in a topic that interests them like art history or English literature. That way that can have successful careers and be well-rounded individuals. That’s how I hope to raise my kids.

    Posted 11 Feb 2009 at 1:42 am
  3. MIT Mommy wrote:

    I think kids just keep asking questions until you run out of gas, so they tend to like what YOU know because those are the questions that get answered. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

    I spent bath time this evening explaining to my six year old the difference between socialism and democracy – which came in handy when the pages he wanted to read tonight in his book talked about the Bay of Pigs invasion.

    Kids are just amazing little sponges, it is so scary.

    Posted 11 Feb 2009 at 2:04 am
  4. Foxfier wrote:

    Shoot, my bedtime/travel stories were all the old myths, Kipling and a verbal re-telling of Tolkien mythology/history, with a liberal mixing of stories from my folks’ personal past.

    Love it when kids are all for knowing! (of course, I was *cough* opinionated at that age, too)

    Posted 11 Feb 2009 at 6:14 am
  5. Jason Cammack wrote:

    My favorite Lew Wallace quote:
    “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere, fails in New Mexico.”

    Posted 11 Feb 2009 at 9:56 pm
  6. Brigette Russell wrote:

    That’s a quote you’d have to have lived in New Mexico to appreciate fully.

    Posted 12 Feb 2009 at 4:05 am

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