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Fine Arts Friday: Too much of a good thing

Our artist for this term is Edouard Manet. Here’s a good short kid’s bio of Manet and the list of suggested works from Ambleside. (We flipped terms two and three to accompany our history topics.)

I’m not going to talk a lot about Manet, except to say I like him a lot and because he was so prolific (+400 paintings), there’s a good chance there is a real live Manet near you! This painting, “The Railway,” is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

The Railway sm

A friend on Facebook asked about taking young kids — boys in particular — to art museums. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve come up with two mistakes that I think are common when going to a museum with young kids. This applies to most museums, but particularly art museums:

  1. We try to make them take in too much.
  2. We get between them and the art.

I think the number one problem is that we go into a gallery that has a hundred kajillion works of art and expect to see most of them. That’s just crazy talk. I understand the impulse, especially if it isn’t a free museum or if you’re on vacation and might not have another opportunity to see these wonderful pieces. But it’s the same thing as sitting down to a fine meal and gorging. You aren’t going to appreciate the individual dishes and you’re going to feel miserable afterward.

Particularly for a young kid who likes to move and touch and talk, asking them to exhibit proper etiquette in a museum over a long period of time is hard. (And to be clear, I do think  you should expect proper etiquette in a museum. If your little guy can only manage that for 20 or 30 minutes, then there’s your time limit.)

So how do you get the most our of your museum trip?

  • Plan ahead: pick two or three highlights that you really must see and several more that you’d like to see if you can.
  • Let your kids pick something that interests them. Or if you see something that you know would interest them, include that in the plan even if it isn’t something you consider worthwhile.
  • This is big: Let your kids know what to expect. If you’ll be looking at art or an artist they know, show them the pictures. Remind them they’ll have to be quiet, that they can’t touch the art, and whatever other rules your family has for outings.  This is a great suggestion for all sorts of scenarios to help little ones learn to keep their hands to themselves.
  • Encourage them to ask questions! Point out the docent and give them a museum guide.
  • Plan breaks. If possible, plan breaks outside where they can run and shout and get their wiggles out.
  • Be observant of your kids — if they are getting grumpy or antsy, take a break or go home. It’s better to cut your trip short than be forever banned because Junior tried to ride the horsey sculpture.
  • I’m not a fan of worksheets, but I am a fan of maps. Print out a map of the museum with the location exhibits you want to see marked, and let your little guys lead the way.
  • Let your kid tell you about a painting. Even if it’s all “wrong,” they’ll be making that particular work their own.

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The other big thing that I think we do wrong is mediate too much. We get between the kid and the painting, or we let other things like worksheets get between them (I really loathe worksheets), and we hinder them from just interacting with the art on their own. From loving it or hating it, from connecting it to other things they’ve seen, from forming their own opinion. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give them any information or context for the art, but primarily, they should be experiencing it on their own. You can’t appreciate art for someone else, they have to do it for themselves!

Those are my suggestions for enjoying art museums with little kids. What would you add (or change?)

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