Kiddos exploring Huguette Caland at the MADE IN LA exhibit at the Los Angeles Hammer Museum

Art is the perfect catalyst for thinking and conversing about all kinds of topics. Young or old, art speaks to us, but how can we hear what it has to say? Here are a few tips to start any art excursion on the right foot.

No Experience Required. You don’t have to look at art accompanied by an expert to explain it to you, nor become one yourself. There are all types of ways to have a meaningful art encounter without any specific knowledge. Art is an opportunity for you and your child to explore reactions and ideas. If, once you’ve found a piece, you want to know more, great! There are avenues for that also, but you don’t need to quietly follow a tour or study anything before arriving.

Hand Over the Controls. As much as possible, follow your child’s lead. You may know the most famous works of art in a museum, but odds are your child doesn’t care. Give him the pleasure of choosing what to observe and for how long. Once a piece catches his eye, set the stage for deep looking. Everyone should act like a human scanner: start at the top of the piece and slowly move your eyes back and forth until you reach the bottom. Then slowly trace a line with your eyes from one corner to another. Try to be alert to all of the details. If you’re standing in front of a sculpture in the round, get moving and circle it. The artist intended for you to see the art from various viewpoints.

“Depending on the age of your child, you can make a scavenger list beforehand or on the spot.”

Without Art There Is No Democracy
Art through a child's ears

“There are all types of ways to have a meaningful art encounter without any specific knowledge.”

Game Time. You and your child are standing in front of a piece of art—now what? Here are some options:

I Spy. Follow your child around a gallery until she stops in front of a painting that she particularly notices. As you’re taking a long, leisurely look, chime in with, “I spy with my little eye ______” and take turns until you can’t find anything more to name. For an older child, ask her, “What do you see?” And then, “What else?” and include what you’re perceiving also. Build on your observations to extend the conversation, or not. Practicing inspecting art is sufficient in and of itself.

Scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, you can make a scavenger list beforehand or on the spot. Find a painting with your favorite color, or hunt for six triangle shapes, or search for someone you would want to invite to dinner. Create a topic, such as the four seasons, and discover objects that portray summer, fall, winter, and spring. Think about making connections with what your child is studying at school; colors, literature, history. Add humor and creativity to your list.

Be an artist. In most museums, it’s okay to carry a pencil and paper. Try sketching all types of paintings: portraits, landscapes, and abstract art. No need to draw the entire piece; pick a detail. Adults can join in, no talent necessary. If a bench isn’t available, sit on the floor, just don’t impede the traffic flow. This can be a good option for active children; it gives them something to do with their hands while they’re looking.

Keep it short. Never try to see everything in a museum in one visit; that’s the perfect way to develop a hatred for art. An hour is plenty long, followed by a snack. This can be an impromptu picnic in a sculpture garden or a bite at the café. Some museums are quite pricey, so look for museums that are free or have free days (although that could mean it’s terribly crowded). Consider a family membership that allows you to visit as many times as you want without any additional charge. Drop by commercial galleries; they’re free.

Keep it slow. You are better off spending five to 10 minutes at one art object than seeing 20 in an hour. Kids need time to think and observe. Ask questions such as, “What do you see?” “Would you like to wear that dress?” “If you could be inside the painting, what do you think you would be smelling/hearing/feeling?” Give your child some time to answer. Don’t be afraid of silence.

Follow museum etiquette. There are rules when viewing art, just like there are rules for going to a movie theater. When watching a movie, no talking is allowed; when looking at art, no touching is allowed. This is to protect the art. The oil on our hands will harm art over time. A museum isn’t a playground, so no running. But, it’s not a library either; conversation and laughter are encouraged.

Don’t bombard kids with information. The name of the artist or the piece is frequently irrelevant to children. Keep the visit focused on what they are watching and their reactions. Their joy likely will come from interacting with the content of the art rather than the facts surrounding its production.

Have fun! Keep your adventure light-hearted and casual. A successful visit is one that ends with the child wanting to return.

Made in LA exhibit- by Kenzi Shlokara

“A museum isn’t a playground, so no running. But, it’s not a library either; conversation and laughter are encouraged.”

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