Taking kids to museums (without having competition-crazed museum runners)

So, I like to talk about art and some of my friends even listen…some join in. I got a nice email from one of the latter group yesterday. He had taken his daughter to a fine arts museum in a nearby city wanted to let me know he had “used” some of the ideas about art I had shared with him. Now, I don’t recall sharing all that much – likely just rambling on about some Art History 101 that I could still pull out of the distant past. In the museum his 10 y/o started asking all kinds of questions; he said

I was glad to have some “good” explanations for her

She asked first why the Impressionists were so-called. My friend responded  that the name had something to do with the focus on quickly capturing an “impression” of a landscape setting. He then went on to focus on the brush stokes and what they looked like; his daughter was fascinated by

the fact that he could go up close to a painting and just see a kaleidoscope of short heavy brush strokes, like a collection of random dots or squares..and then as she moved back, the painting would come to life, she could suddenly see the grass waving in the wind, or the water shimmering.

I was thrilled! This is a friend who has no art background or  art education other than being curious and happy to learn. He talked about the art with his child without fear of getting it wrong – just dove in and had fun. This is such a key point. Our kids are like sponges, they are curious and want to soak up what ever tidbits of fun facts you toss their way when it comes to art. So, find chances to stand with your child in front of a work of art and open a conversation. The art can be found almost anywhere, local galleries, gift shops, even graffiti can be thought-provoking. Trips to museums can of course be great but – may seem daunting. Here are some ideas for making them fun:

  • Walk at your child’s pace and follow their interests. Let them lead the way and define which works of art are worth a longer look
  • Babar’s Museum of Art is a  good book for young kids  with the theme of setting kids free to interpret art in their own way. It suggests that when they have paused to look longer at a work ask them

What do you see? Tell me about this.

  • Volunteer a mini “lecture” about anything you can remember (I can help you learn a few bits over time). Improvise! Deliver with enthusiasm without concern for accuracy – you can always check your facts later.
  • Bring pads of paper, pencils and eraser to enjoy trying to sketch your own Picasso or Degas to take home.
  • A girlfriend of mine a few years ago gave me her tip for museum-going with kids. She always started at the museum gift shop (but with a clear understanding the stop was not for toys) and allowed each child to choose a handful of postcards that they liked. Then using the postcards they embarked on a scavenger hunt through the museum to find the works (the cards in museum shops invariably depict works of art on display at that time). I tried it and it failed miserably for me by turning my three kids into competition-crazed museum runners. However, for other children this may work really well – try it and see!

The goal in any case is to get your children interested in and talking about art. They are an easy audience – just about anything you say will open the door for more questions and fun

Returning to my friend’s attempt to answer his daughter’s questions. He did incredibly well. The Impressionists were very focused on the depiction of light and how it changes throughout the day. This can be most clearly shown to kids when looking at Claude Monet’s work.  A great question for a child when looking at any landscape but, especially his is

“tell me what time of day you think the painting was done”.

In fact, you could then tell them that the term “Impressionists” came from a derisive review of one of Monet’s paintings entitled “Impression, Sunrise”. It was reviewed and judged to be unfinished in its appearance (the Impressionists began their work on the heels of much more “realistic” art like that done in the neoclassicism and romanticism periods). The group of artists Monet was exhibiting with at the time (all the big guns in the impressionist movement – Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, etc) shared his interest in qualities of light and they adopted the name “Impressionists” as a way of snubbing their noses at the poor reviews. Well, history was certainly a better judge.

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