Art Works Blog

Encountering the Arts for the First Time

A first encounter with the arts is not something a person is likely to forget. The initial experience is never quite enough, and it can often lead to a lifelong love and appreciation for the arts. Below are various personal accounts of first encounters that were provided by artists we’ve interviewed in the past. As you read these accounts and look back on the first time you encountered the arts, feel free to share your experience in the comments. Also be sure to click on the artists’ names to read their full stories.

“My first experiences in the arts were gifts that people gave to me before I could walk or even hold up my head. We use art to welcome our children into the world. We use art to teach them who they are. So our first experience with art comes before we are even conscious.” — Renée Elise Goldsberry, actress and singer

“Everyone would come together and we'd make sugar skulls. I remember making those skulls and seeing papel picado around us, and all of these beautiful dried roses that [my parents' friend] had spread throughout the house. It was a way of being. It was the aesthetics of the culture that really influenced me and my understanding of what art was.” — Raquel de Anda, curator and cultural producer 

“As I was getting dressed for nursery school one morning, I told my mom I wanted to wear a tie. She asked me why, and I said just because. When a kid at school asked me why I was wearing a tie, I said, ‘I got a gig’ … It wasn’t so much the four-year-old fantasy of being a performing musician that was an engagement with art, but the act of lying ... I had no clue about its consequences, but I was playing with language, identity, and performance (several layers, I guess). The falsehoods, fictions, music, and myths only blossomed from there.” — Patrick Rosal, poet and musician

“I remember sitting in front of my parents’ bookshelf and just paging through photography books. They had these Time-Life Books, a lot of books that just captured photography of current events around the world, and I absorbed a lot of images at an early age that I, to this day, think are a huge part of how I compose images on stage.” — Liesl Tommy, theater director

“I remember my mother dressing me up as the Hindu god Krishna for a costume competition when I was five or six years old … I still remember feeling special that day as my mother dressed me up as Krishna, even making garlands for me from the flowers in our garden. It felt good to step into someone else's skin so simply and completely.” — Daniel Phoenix Singh, dancer and choreographer

“One time my class was visiting another school and I went crazy over their huge collection of beautiful paint colors (especially the ones we didn’t have at my school). As I was making a huge painting, my teacher came up to me and said, ‘Please do not paint too big; you need to leave some paints for the other kids. Keep it small.’ That’s when I knew I was going to excel in something visual.” — Christine Sun Kim, sound artist

“In fourth grade there was a poetry competition. And it was writing poems in response to The Diary of Anne Frank, which we had just read. I don’t really remember exactly what I wrote about, but I remember writing on this really nice paper. I remember drawing barbed wire on the edges of the paper. And I remember that being the first time I felt that art could be in response to a trauma and that art had its own sort of magical alchemy about it. After that, writing and art became this space of healing, where it could create healing but also create a space for healing.” — Tanaya Winder, poet

“The second grade is my earliest memory of me realizing, ‘Oh wow, I like this art stuff.’ I was in this combination class of second- and third-graders, and there was this kid in the third grade that could draw really well. The other students would crowd around him to see what he was drawing, and when he was done they would ask him if they could have it. I recognized the attention that he was getting from his peers from just creating something. I was attracted to looking like I was cool, so I decided that I was going to learn how to draw, whatever that meant. [I started] checking out books from the library like how to draw horses, how to draw people…” — Michael Vasquez, visual artist

“I don’t come from a family of artists and so I think my parents were flummoxed that I had such an intense desire … I would save up money and I would purchase art supplies whenever I could. It was always really hard to break into that first set of paints or pencils or crayons because they were just so beautiful and I had worked so hard to obtain them. But I always was busy, always creating things, always writing books and drawing, experimenting with things I would find in the woods. I’ve always been an artist.” — Shan Goshorn, visual artist

“I feel as though I come from a family of storytellers and so we would sit around the kitchen table and my mom and dad would entertain us with tales of the annoying boss or the crazy coworker and they would take on the personas of these different people. So even though it just seemed like everyday that was probably my first introduction to theater in its most communal and purest form—just sitting around in the circle and family just coming together to share.” — Katori Hall, playwright

“I was basically saved by the arts…I didn’t tend to talk much. But I always felt totally liberated when I was painting, drawing, whatever. It was a whole different world for me. And as I said, I feel like it saved me growing up.”— Mariette Pathy Allen, photographer


There are memories of writing stories with accompanied illustrations. An assignmemt for a Halloween poster. We were given black and red paint, so I painted the entire page with black and added these red demons on top of that. I'll never forget the look on my mom's face when she saw THAT!  She made some sort of comment about wondering whether or not she should be concerned and call a psychiatrist. I couldn't understand why she would think or say that -  they only gave us black and red paint. Anyway, my most vivid memories are of music, many hours next to my dad and his tape recorder. He seemed happiest during those times. Those are great memories. I love everything related to the arts. Music, drawing, painting, dance, theater and writing. It's all about expression. Art is the opposite of oppression. I believe that anything can be done, can be elevated to an art form. Imagine that world. Kindness as art. 

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