Artists in residence

The following is by contributor Robin Zipporah of The Not-Ever-Still Life.

This is my first favorite painting. I’ve since had many others, but you always remember your first loves, right? It’s called Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla from 1912. It hangs in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, not far from my childhood home.  I first saw it when I was four or five. I’d stand before it and stare.

Do you talk to your kids about art? When we look at art with our children and discuss what they see, we build important skills that carry over into the rest of their education. Talking about visual arts promotes critical thinking as well as language and literary skills. Talking about art, where everyone holds a different opinion and everyone sees something different, promotes asserting one’s opinion and respecting someone else’s. It activates engagement, debate, and learning to understand multiple perspectives. And it’s fun!

I’m an art historian and mama of three young kids. And I want to walk you through talking with your favorite small people about art. Children make excellent art appreciators. So today I’m introducing a new series to Simple Kids: Artists in Residence. 

We’re bringing a love of art right to your home. In each post, I’m going to introduce you to one artist or work of art. We’ll discuss a few important concepts about the art, including how to introduce it to your kids. And each time I’ll offer you a project idea for you to try with your kids based on the art we’re looking at so that you and your little ones can explore the ideas yourselves. Finally, I’ll point you to some resources for further learning.

You know why you can successfully teach your kids about art? Your kids are already expertsThis is the foundation of how we’re going to approach art appreciation together: there are no wrong answers. And you only need two sets of questions. 1) “What do you see?”/”What’s going on in this piece?” 2) “What else do you see?”/”What makes you say that?”

Your kids will build a story, and it doesn’t matter if it’s what the artist had in mind. What matters is that your kids are viewing the work with curiosity, engaging in creative thinking, drawing connections between what they see and things they’ve seen before, and finding inspiration.

A few months ago, I had a date with my six-year-old for a little mama-daughter time. We live in the Washington, DC area, which means we’re fortunate to have amazing museums at our doorstep and my girl asked for a morning at the National Gallery of Art. She stopped in front of an Andy Warhol self-portrait and I was ready to answer her questions about the repetition of the image four times across the field but I reminded myself to let her lead the conversation. 

“Where is his mommy?” she asked. I didn’t understand her context and I turned to question #2: “what do you see that makes you ask that?” She was worried about him because he must not have a mommy to take care of him. If he had a mommy, she wouldn’t have let him leave the house with his hair standing up all crazy like that.

She looked closely at the piece, related it to her understanding of life, and drew unique conclusions. That’s successful looking. One day we can discuss Pop art and commercial influences and the social environment of drug use in the 1960s but for now, as relates to my child or yours, the artist’s intention isn’t what matters.

What matters is learning to look, to scrutinize, to observe the details. By looking closely, we’re thinking deeply. Are you excited?

I’ll be back soon with a little lesson on looking at the portraits of a Renaissance painter who shaped his faces out of fruits and vegetables. For now, though, I’ll leave you with my first favorite artist quotation. It comes from Mies van der Rohe, a man primarily known as an architect who emphatically believed in the art of looking closely:

“God is in the details.”

Do you talk with your kids about art?

About Robin

Robin has two daughters, a son, a lovely husband who works many more than full-time hours and a full-time career of her own in government in the suburbs of Washington, DC. You can always read more about Robin’s parenting philosophies and her family’s antics and adventures at her personal blog The Not-Ever-Still Life, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Online Knitting Class
Delightful kids' crafts delivered to your door!  See sample crates>>


  1. Very nice. I have learned to let my child see what he wants to see and not force what I see onto him… sigh…it took me awhile. 🙂
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau´s latest post: When Reality Collides With the Ideal

    • It’s ongoing, but so worthwhile, don’t you think? I hope you’ll keep up with us- the first artist post is scheduled for Wednesday!
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy

  2. Love it. What a great perspective on how children view the world. Very excited to see how I can use this at home. We probably need more art! There are a couple of small galleries of local artists in our area but the big museums are 2-3 hours away. I also need to try the one to one. I can’t quite manage the 4 all at once in an art gallery!
    Cynthia I´s latest post: A Day in the Life–Turning 4

    • Oh, I agree- all the kids at once makes it hard to have any kind of meaningful conversation! But remember that art doesn’t have to mean something in a frame hanging in a quiet room. Look for murals on the sides of stores, sculpture gardens, even graffiti. Imagery is everywhere and for the purposes of talking to our kids about it, the canon of art isn’t what matters, just the opportunity to practice talking about it. Have fun!
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy

  3. I love this! I recently went to a lecture given by Camille Paglia, who was introducing her new book, Glittering Images. It’s kind of a primer on visual art, and she said one of the groups she wrote it for was homeschooling moms, so their kids can have an introduction to art. I don’t have the book yet but it looks incredible. Might be a good companion or source of ideas for this series. So glad you’re doing this!

    • Camille Paglia is brilliant! I haven’t seen this latest book yet, though, so I’m grateful to you for pointing it out.
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve always been terrified of art because I was worried about “getting it” and I think I’ve let this translate onto my kids (I feel similarly about poetry) but I LOVE to look and you’ve just given me the freedom to do this with my kids. Fabulous!

    • Ooh, don’t be terrified! There’s no “getting it” if there are no right or wrong answers. Free yourself 🙂 and have fun!
      And I think you bring up a great larger point – we’re intimidated by a lot of the traditional arts, aren’t we? But we needn’t be. Maybe Simple Kids needs a poetry for kids series, too!
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy

  5. I *AM* excited!! Mia is so very interested in the details of art — the how-to — and I want to introduce her to the *feelings* behind art as well. And I have no idea how to go about it. Enter: Robin 🙂

    Can’t wait to dive in with you!
    Sarah @ This Heavenly Life´s latest post: If The Hulk Were Made of Dirt…

  6. Have you ever read, When Pigasso met Mootisse? It is a great children’s book about Picasso and Matisse, and art in general. My kids love this book!
    Rheagan´s latest post: House Calls

    • I don’t know that book but I love it already, based on the title 🙂 Picasso is a great artist for talking about shape, because he used shapes so wildly. And Matisse and his colors! Delicious!
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy

  7. We love looking at art together and creating projects that link to a great artist… I so look forward to seeing your next post – it sounds like a lot of fun!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Table for Ten – Part 1: Se7en + 1 Food Rules…

  8. Thanks so much for this. We’ve been told over and over that our 7 yr old is very talented in his art drawings yet I never know how to teach him more about art. I’m so looking forward to doing this series with him and seeing what he creates. He loves to watch canvas painting on PBS so I know he’ll like reading these posts with me.
    Stacey Murphy´s latest post: Coming back…

    • I’ll tell you what my oldest daughter’s (she’s the six-year-old in the picture above) art teacher says: there are no mistakes in creating art. Give him the freedom to draw with expression and intuition. Encourage him to look all around him about how imagery is made. Ask him questions like “is the sky really blue?” Then look with him. We assume it’s blue, right? But sometimes it’s grayish yellow and sometimes it’s white and at sunset it might have a spectrum of orange and purple. Help him to look closely, so he understands how images are really formed and not just how we lazily assume them to be formed. And then give him freedom to have fun. Just by encouraging him you’re already offering him wonderful support!
      Robin´s latest post: Sandy


  1. […] Artists in Residence series (by Robin of The Not-Ever-Still Life) is beginning at Simple Kids. Each post will focus on one […]

  2. […] you as excited for Robin’s upcoming Artists in Residence series as I am?  Well, hang on to your creative hats, because she’s got a post coming up for you […]

  3. […] new series on Simple Kids: ‘Artists in Residence‘ will introduce readers to art concepts/artists and pieces of art and then suggest ways to […]

  4. […] week I introduced this new series, Artists in Residence. Are you excited to begin an earnest conversation with your kids about art? Let’s […]