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April 15, 2012

Talking with Children About Art

Some people are intimidated about discussing art with children.  I think it’s because they feel that they need to have all of the answers before starting the conversation.   Whether it is at a museum, gallery, or even looking at art on a friend’s living room wall, there is no reason to be afraid.  Think about these tips when experiencing art with children:

1. BE FEARLESS: Think about what draws you to a piece of art – it’s probably the way you reacted to it.   It’s ok to not be familiar with the artist or the medium, just think about how you feel when you look at it. That is what we need to convey to children – get them to think about their reaction to it and understand why they are reacting that way. That is a wonderful starting point for a conversation on a piece.

2. BE HONEST: Saying you “like”something is not enough.   When you speak to your child, tell her/him why you like or dislike a piece. Think about the lighting, mood, colors, subject matter, size, even the execution – anything that will allow you to express your reaction to the piece.  Be specific, and honest. Then, ask your child what he/she thinks about those same subjects.

3. LISTEN!: I’m always amazed at how children see things in a  piece of art that I never saw – even images that I have looked at a hundred times. When they address these elements of the image, ask them what they think it means. When they express their ideas, show an interest and stay positive. Don’t dismiss what they say as being ‘wrong’ or unrealistic.  Remember, we all react to art differently and anything they say is valid.   Their interpretation is just as valid as an art critic’s.  Children have a unique way of looking at the world and that certainly applies when looking at art.

4. LET YOUR CHILD CHOOSE:  If you are in a gallery or museum – let your child decide what he/she wants to examine and discuss.  Of course, if there are masterpieces you don’t want your child to miss, look at those as well.  Just give your child some freedom to investigate what he/she likes.  The trip to the museum will be much more memorable,  she’ll even talk about it long after she’s home.

5. RESIST THE URGE: Save the reading of the wall label for last. It may be fun to guess the name of a piece or the materials used to make it.  Often, if you know these things ahead of time, you contaminate your own reaction to the art. Don’t do that! Let yourself look, absorb, and react.  Then discuss how you feel about it (even if you dislike the work so much you wouldn’t line your birdcage with it!)

6. DON’T BE SUPERMAN: Don’t feel like you have to see everything.  I often go to the Metropolitan Museum, and let me tell you, it would take at least a week to see everything. So what I do is look at the map, which shows all of the galleries plus the special exhibitions. Then I decide what I am interested in seeing. (This method also gives you a good reason to return at a later date.) So, in a large museum, decide beforehand what you and your child would like to see.

7. BRING HOME A MEMORY: On your way out, get some postcards of he images that you and your child liked the most.  They’ll make great mementos, a nice addition to a scrap-book, or even (surprise) a discussion piece!

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