More Than Money
Issue #34

The Art of Giving

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories: The Gift of Time: Sharing the Wonder Years”

A Conversation with Susan Master-Karnik

Based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." -Rachel Carson

When I was ten years old, I went to New York City's Frick Museum on a field trip sponsored by my public school. Built on Fifth Avenue, this former residence of Henry Clay Frick is an amazing place. It's full of art masterpieces by Rembrandt, Ingres, Renoir, Fragonard, Boucher- all kinds of drop-your-mouth type of things-in a setting that is on a human scale. As a child, I was surprised that it wasn't a big, imposing museum like the kind I had seen before; it was a grand house, with a parlor and courtyard and a fountain and an outdoor garden. I had never seen anything more beautiful in my whole life.

When my artistically-inclined niece Scottie turned ten years old, I took her to the Frick Museum because that's where my interest in the arts had started. Now, I take all my nieces there, and to other museums-but not until they are ten. At that age, they are old enough to begin to think critically about the experience. When I took Danner, another of my nieces, to see an exhibit of automobiles at the Museum of Modern Art, she went wild about it. It was the first time she had ever considered automobile design as art.

When I walk through a museum, I can see at a glance so much about the artist and the institution by looking at the exhibition labels. At the Metropolitan Museum, for example, you can identify right from the label the years the artist was born and died, the year the piece was created, when it came into the collection, and where the funds came from to purchase it or who donated it. I describe all these things to my nieces, and tie in the concept of giving back to your community through art. I also take pictures of our trip and put together a little album for them, so they can remember it better.

We don't always just go to museums. We decide together where we will go and what we will do. I like to give them as much choice as possible. They can either fail or win with their choices. I want them to learn that you don't die from making a bad choice. Once we went to a Cuban restaurant in Long Island City, another time to an afternoon community party at P.S. 1, where artists and musicians were just hanging out together.

On these outings, I learn about my nieces through the questions they ask and the kinds of things they like to do. They, in turn, learn about me and what I'm most passionate and knowledgeable about. I am introducing them to the experience that adults have passions, too.

The time we spend together is not just about looking at art or having a new experience; there is an exchange of ideas going on. You don't need to be an expert to do it. All you have to do is talk and listen. You can ask, "Which cathedral in this series of Monet paintings do you like the best? What time of day is your favorite?" That's how people learn to appreciate aesthetics, from their own personal experience. You can make art-or any other topic-approachable, not something people do only in school.

For me, the most important thing about this kind of giving is that I am sharing my time and passion in a caring relationship. I talk about the things that I remember noticing when was a child, like the texture in the women's gowns in the portraits and my absolute astonishment when I realized that all of that could be done with paint.

All of us have our own interests to share. My passions include museums and art. The difference between giving my time in this way and giving something I can purchase and wrap is immeasurable.

Susan Master-Karnik is a New York City native, who has lived for the past two decades in the Boston metropolitan area. She is a member of the board of More Than Money, an overseer of DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and author of a picture book about the museum's founders. She is also a singer-songwriter and a retired CFO.

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