Is Art in the Genes?

I often wonder about things.  For example, do people who follow in their father’s footsteps or do so because of genetics?  Or, is it an acquired skill or predilection?  I thought more about this when I saw that Sheldon Snyder and Tova Snyder (www.artswestchester.org/artists/profile/tova-snyder) were in an exhibition “Influence of the Land,” together at the Transform Art Gallery, 20 Jones Street in New Rochelle (www.artswestchester.org/things-to-do/event/influence-of-the-land).  Was this a coincidence?  Apparently not.  These two are father and daughter reunited in an exhibition organized by David Hochberg with a third artist, Eric Camiel.

I first met Tova, a graduate of Yale and Tyler School of Art, when she rented a studio in ArtsWestchester’s building in downtown White Plains.  I admired her paintings of Italian rooftops, which had a contemplative mosaic quality.  She applied and was appointed to the ArtsWestchester Artist Roster (www.artswestchester.org/what-we-do/arts-in-education/teaching-artist-faqs), a corps of artists qualified to conduct residencies in schools and other community sites.  She excelled as a teaching artist.  Somewhere along the way, she won a competition to design a mural and her rooftops migrated to the MTA Harrison train station fabricated as stained glass windows.  Tova thinks of herself as a “performance painter” participating in festivals in Brazil and Italy in which she creates a mural on-site in four or five days.  She is a troubadour with a paint brush bringing her talents as a muralist into Westchester communities as she has done at the Port Chester Fest.

In contrast, Sheldon Snyder’s (www.tovasnyder.com/sheldonsnyder/about.htm) color palette is a far cry from his daughter’s mellow tones.  Rich in primary colors and bold graphic lines, Sheldon’s work has a naïve charm and sense of humor, most especially apparent in illustrations for his children’s books such as Pongee Goes To School, Four Lumps in My Cereal and Easygoing Oliver.  His versatility as an artist encompasses painting, pottery, wood sculpture and toys.  As a young artist, his pottery led him to open a ceramics gallery in Greenwich Village, later on a toy store in Provincetown, Mass, which he recreated and operated as “Katan Toys” in Rye for 17 years.

It’s not hard to imagine how this culturally enriched home life in various artistic centers, including a four-year stint in Israel, might magnetize a young person toward the arts.  Or is it just all in the genes?

The jury is still out (read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture). What do you think?  Leave me a comment below.

One Response to “Is Art in the Genes?”

  1. June 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Great topic! I believe that “nature” (i.e., genetics) will play a role in certain predispositions to excel at certain things: I am 5’9″ and there was never much chance that I’d play center for the NY Knicks (although the 5’3″ Spud Webb and Muggsey Bogues have proven that a stellar NBA career is possible).

    But when it comes to the arts, there is ample evidence that the human race is already hard-wired to grasp and appreciate it, which infers an ability to create it. We are born hearing sounds, say, of our mother’s voice – simple sonic frequencies – or seeing the reflection of light in her eyes that make them brown or green. The ability to grasp these aural or visual cues are inherent.

    I believe that “nurture” is what enables (or unfortunately more often, disables) one’s discovery of the wonders of sound or light, and one’s pursuit of controlling them, aka, art. How we are nurtured will define whether or not we are driven to pursue creative mastery of it, or simply to enjoy and appreciate art, or dismiss it altogether as useless whimsy (which, on one level or another, are all tied to “ego”). But the foundation, i.e., “nature,” exists in all of us.

    The great singer/composer/musical genius Bobby McFerrin was recently invited to the World Science Fair to demonstrate exactly this phenomenon. (See the link below for an astounding video.) He uses the Pentatonic scale – a succession of five simple notes that, in scientific terms of physical sound frequencies, have an equivalent mathmatical relationship to each other, something the human brain latches onto in a way that creates a common expectation. Enjoy!

    http://worldsciencefestival.com/videos/the_power_of_the_pentatonic_scale