As I reflected on the art making process with my family, I realized that “Clementine” would not be the first time I was making art with my sisters. I had forgotten about the theatrical productions me and my sisters had choreographed, directed and acted in as part of licensed camps my mother ran out of our basement during the summers. Also forgotten, the elaborate Christmas spectacles we wrote, choreographed and performed throughout elementary and middle school for our parents and their friends. I wondered if others had similar art making experiences within their own families.
As I asked around the response was mixed. Many of my friends had experienced art making through play with siblings, which did not usually involve parental participation. Many of the people I talked with could remember creating plays with their brother, or making a dance for the talent show with their sister, but memories of family-wide art making was rare, even among my “artsy” friends.
One friend of mine, Gabriella, and her family, the Meiterman-Rodgriuezs, could speak to art making as an integral, and fairly continuous, part of their family life.
I interviewed Gabriella and her father, hoping to gain insight into the nature of their family’s art making and to find out how a culture of family engagement with creating art had developed in their home.
In the Meiterman-Rodriguez family, art and the creation of art is something that is respected. This is how Bernie Meiterman-Rodriguez explains the attitude he has developed and has tried to cultivate in his daughters.
Until a recent career change, into television production, Bernie was a practicing lawyer for over twenty years. Although he describes his artistic practice as little more than a hobby, it is clear that he takes art and personal art making seriously.
Bernie explained that it was during his high school years that his ideas about art and art making began to take shape. He was influenced by a former art history and fine arts teacher. This teacher urged Bernie to “paint without apology”. It was a moment of realization, that he could create and that what he made was important. In addition to his interest in visual art, Bernie began playing music in his early years. Today he has a recording studio in his basement where he plays and composes his own music.
Talking with Bernie one gets the sense that he has fashioned his living space to be dedicated to art making, so that home, family and art are intimately intertwined. He has built both a music recording and art studio space in his home in New Jersey. Both are fully equipped so that family members have access to any materials they might need for creating art, at any time. Another point of pride is a family gallery that features artworks made by his two daughters, his wife and himself.
It is clear that Bernie reveres these works. He described one way he instilled the value of personal art making in his daughters. As his children were growing up he would provide them with quality materials for their art making. A finished piece of art was then professionally framed, and hung in a place of honor in the house. Bernie felt it was very important to treat his children’s artwork like one would treat a painting purchased from a professional artist.
For Gabby growing up in an art-filled environment has made her very comfortable with doing creative work. She has no qualms about picking up a pencil or brush and creating. She also views art making as a time she uses to bond with her mother, father and sister. It is no surprise that all this artistic encouragement reared a young adult who is now pursuing higher education in the arts.
Recently an opportunity for collaboration between father and daughter arose, when Gabby needed a sound score for a dance for film she had composed. Bernie remarked about how honored he was to collaborate and compose for Gabriella. The way he described presenting an idea and then adjusting it based on his daughter’s feedback demonstrated a kind of flexibility between parent and child hierarchy. Both parties were viewed as having something important to offer to the process, rather than one having ultimate authority.
Although this was one the first times Gabby actively collaborated with her Dad on a project, she noted that the art that her family makes is constantly inspiring how she creates dance. She feels that the home environment her family’s art making has fostered has been, and will continue to be stimulating and energizing for her dance and choreographic process.
In light of the clear focus on the arts that exists in the Meiterman-Rodriguez household, Bernie emphasized that he doesn’t intend to “force” the arts on his children. He reported that he was ecstatic that Gabby was pursuing the study of dance at the university level, but just as celebrated was her sister’s choice to pursue communication and publication when she attends college in the fall.
This family serves as an amazing model of how art can be integrated into family life. The Meitermen-Rodriguez clan has developed a culture where each family member is respected as an artist in their own right, without pressure to pursue art professionally or for any reason besides self-fulfillment and expression.