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 experts. This 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?