This post was truly 15 years in the making. I have taught children ages 0-18 art since I was practically a teenager. In my experience, the younger kids are exposed to art and included in discussions about art, the more comfortable they are as they grow up. Looking at and discussing art can create more visually observant children and expand their vocabulary as they are in a new place having a new experience, therefore, learning new words. How often do you discuss texture and negative space at home? Probably never right? At the art museum they are exposed to these concepts and their minds are broadened.
1. Start with the Elements of Art-texture, shape, color, form, line, space, and value. A 2 year old who is learning colors and shapes can repeat the names of colors and maybe recognize shapes. “Is that a circle or a square”? ” What color is that star?” An older child-around 4 or 5 can perceive texture-“How do you think the painting would feel if you could touch it? Bumpy or smooth?” That can lead to a conversation about paint application.
2. Discuss the subject matter of the artwork. Kids might see something familiar such as a puppy (portrait) or an apple (still life). A young child can understand that a portrait is a picture of a person or animal. Keep it simple. A landscape is a picture of a place. Then have the child point out all the landscapes in the Impressionist wing or the portraits in the photography gallery.
3. Show the child how to read the placards next to each work of art-even if they can’t read. Tell them who the artist of the work was/is, where they were born, and the title of the work. From that information alone a 3 or 4 year old can have a lengthy discussion about a work of art. Ask them why they think the artist titled the artwork with that particular title or, for example, tie in the fact that the artist is from Italy to other facts about Italy they already know.
4. Don’t forget that looking at art can be a character building experience. Don’t be shy to discuss the emotions behind a work of art. Discuss how the use of blue in Picasso’s painting is supposed to convey sadness or the strong, swirling lines in Van Gogh’s Starry Night show his loneliness. This can empower your child to feel more open with discussing their feelings with you and teach children that it’s best to look for a positive outlet to express their emotions.
Art is all around us-it’s in advertising, the clothes we wear, the homes we buy. Everything around us was created by someone and we choose what messages we are sending to the world in our aesthetic response. Conversations about art give children a better grasp on the messages they are being sent and will send out in the future. Don’t be afraid to take littles to a gallery or a museum. My last tip is to start small with a local gallery or a museum that has kids programming, to keep their interest throughout the experience.