How To Get Your Children Talking About Art

First things first, I'm no art buff. I know what I like (Whistlejacket by George Stubbs), and I know what I don't like (Damien Hirst's Pickled Cow), I do however enjoy the process of deciding what I do, and do not like. I enjoy art, in as much as that I enjoy thinking, and art, whether pleasant or otherwise, get's me thinking. 
I've been taking Seb to art galleries since he was tiny. I took him to the Turner Contemporary Gallery here in Margate not long after it opened, when he was still very much a baby. Thankfully there were a lot of pieces that lit up in one of those early exhibitions and he loved it, loved it, loved it, fell asleep. I also remember taking him to the National Portrait Gallery when he was about two years old, and realising then that he was fascinated by people in paintings. 
My parenting is typically child lead, if Seb shows an interest in something, I'll bend over backwards trying to nurture that interest in to a passion, so if I catch wind of an exhibition that's portrait dominant, and free, I'll take him along.
Seb's four now, and exploring his intrigues is a lot of fun. We can now make art gallery visits more interesting by using art as an opportunity to discuss anything from history to favourite colours. 
If you're unsure of how to "do" art galleries with young children to make it interesting for all of you (without direction kids generally seem to run... they just keep running... galleries are good for that) then I've pooled together some tips; 
  1. You don't need to know anything about art to be able to discuss it with your children. Children aren't looking for explanations and information, talking about art with your children is about equipping them with new ways of describing what they see, and how they respond to it - which is useful elsewhere in life too.
  2. One of the simplest and most effective ways of engaging with your children over art is to ask the most straight forward of questions; "What do you see?" You might be surprised by your children's answers, but you're also encouraging them to explore their own interpretations of art, rather than forcing yours upon them. This simple question should stop the urge to run, and make your children stand, even very briefly, to think.
  3. Change your perspective. Encourage children to look at art close up, and then to take several steps back and to look at it from a distance. When you're close up, ask what your children think the art is made from, and how it was made, can they find the artist's name anywhere on the work, or is there a label? If your children aren't old enough to read, read any labels to them. When you're far away from the art work, talk about what colours they can see from here (their answers may be different compared to when they're close to the piece), how does the piece make them feel? How do they think the artist felt when they produced the piece? It never matters whether your children give correct or incorrect answers (or whether you know the correct answers) what matters is that they're thinking, both logically and critically, and it's important to always ask them to explain how they arrived at their conclusion. 
  4. You can find art anywhere, you don't have to go to a gallery or museum. There are more than likely sculptures in your town, or stained glass windows in your local church, that you could view with your children right now. Looking at real, tangible pieces of art makes for a far more engaging experience than discussing printed pictures in books (although this is good too!)
  5. Lastly, if your child shows a particular interest in a piece of art, whether it's a sculpture in the church yard, or a painting in your local gallery, think of ways to explore the idea further at home, get crafty and creative, exploring art doesn't have to stop with discussion. Although, if they show an interest in pickled cows...

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