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Children in Art Museums

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

In my research in art museums many parents tell me they don’t feel comfortable taking children to the art museum. Their reasons vary. Some don’t feel knowledgeable enough about art and fear looking stupid. Others perceive there is nothing for children to do there and are concerned that either the children will damage something or be bored.

Most art museums offer a variety of enjoyable family programs and that are a good way to become familiar with the museum. Check the museum’s website for the family events schedule. Hint: Sometimes museuum websites hide the family programs under the “Education” tab. In addition, many art museums have interactive family galleries where everyone can have a hands-on, minds-on experience with art. Admittedly some art museums are more “family-friendly” than others but here are a few tips for getting the most out of a visit to any art museum.

1. Be curious. Let go of the idea that you need to be an expert. Children don’t worry about this, they just follow their interests. Keep in mind that typical visitor behavior in art museums is more like haphazard grazing than eating a full meal from start to finish, so let children “graze” according to their interests. Some interests will be momentary and others will be more sustained. Rather than feel you have to answer children’s questions, help them follow up on their own questions, ponder possibilities, and seek answers from someone at the museum, if possible, in books, and online.

2. Visit frequently. A trip to the art museum is not like a vaccination – once you’ve seen it you don’t need it again. Every time you go you discover something else, even if you look at the same art each time. A family museum membership is a good value and allows you to make many short visits, avoiding fatigue, and children wishing they were somewhere else. Visit often enough to feel comfortable there and learn your way around. Children like to feel an ownership of public institutions.

3. Plan ahead and be picky. Many visitors try to see the entire art museum in one visit. If you take repeated shorter visits then each visit can be focused on one part of the museum. Check on the museum’s website for exhibitions and collections on view. Let children participate in planning what to do. Explore the website further because many art museums, such as the Walters Art Museum, have special child-friend interactive sites.

Families in ArtSparks at the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY

4. Seek inspiration. Even if an art museum has no special family gallery or family programs when you visit, experience the museum as an artist might. Bring along sketchbooks (adults need to do this too) and color pencils. Most museums allow sketching in the galleries with pencils but check the policy. When you tire of standing and looking, find a place to sit and sketch. Some museums even allow you to sit on the floor but check that too. If there is a sculpture garden and the weather is nice, that’s a great place to sketch and maybe even have a snack – but remember, no food or drink in the museum galleries.

These are just a few ideas to get you started but there are many more. For example, Australian researcher, Katrina Weier, has good ideas for taking young children to the art museum. as does Erica Loop and Abby Margolis Newman.

The most important thing is to go, relax, and have a good time. So take your inner artist to an art museum!

Thanks for the great photos to Johnnie Utah, hoyasmeg at the High Museum of Art’s Greene Family Gallery in Atlanta, and the Speed Art Museum, ArtSparks in Louisville KY.

Art in 2009!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

At the end of our beloved 2008, we posted a series of 5 wishes for 2009 — we wanted arts funded, we wanted them in our schools, we wanted them for all (young and old, big and little) and we wanted to hold onto the arts of love and hope.

WOW – that’s a lot to accomplish in one year so we thought we would start with something fundamental – what is Art? Notice the capital letter. I ask this question of you based on my reflections over the last 48 hours — first, my 5 year old and I completed our questionnaire for his well child visit and he was asked to draw a person (I have never seen him do that – he usually does watercolors at school – highly impressionistic, kaleidoscopic whirls of color, with no body parts in sight!). Second, I read on the web that in my country of birth, a major art gallery had had one of its large concrete public walls graffiti-ed (is that a word?) on by the same artist twice in a month. When asked if they would be removing the artist’s poetry, the curator of the museum was disgusted — it was art, an expression of an artist’s love for someone else, how could he remove such an expression of human emotion? Finally, as a writer and as a mother, I was creating a blog, adding images, adding a trailer for a movie about something I was passionate about. Humming away, completely in flow (art as meditation), on my ‘piece of art’, I was completely floored when asked – so what purpose is that serving? Why are you doing that again? Hmmmm art. Art is something difficult to hold onto it seems.

And so I turned to my old friend, wise distributor of words, the dictionary. What is art? I asked it. Here is what it said, imagine a staccato machine-like voice —

” \ˈärt\. Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars. Date: 13th century.

1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts b: archaic : learning , scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

Righty-o then.

My dictionary friend then added, ” art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power; skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency (OK….); cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing (uh-oh….); artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature (definitely not to be confused with art) whereas craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

So which one was my son being asked to fulfill in that questionnaire?

Whatever it was, it was different to “a personal, unanalyzable creative power” as suggested by my dictionary friend. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? When we revisit our five wishes we now begin to see them as follows – we want this power funded, we want it sustained in our schools and education (after the word educare, to lead out), we want everyone to possess this power or have access to it and we believe that two of our strongest emotions — love and hope, are its wellsprings. Over the next few months, we will be working some more with this vision of art in this blog and speaking to some fine scholars of visual literacy and active agents in making this power of art available to all, especially encouraging it in our younger generations. We will also explore ways to recover this power in our everyday lives with those big/little/old/young people we love and we will see what kind of thinking, minds and characters emerge as a result.

We look forward to your company on this journey!

With thanks to Denis Collettejbrownell for, well you know, art…..

Let’s start 2009 with Art!

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