From no way! to Monet!
Introducing your child to art — how to look at it, how to make it — can be a fulfilling experience for both of you. Here’s how to do it.
As a parent, I didn’t often drag my little anarchists to galleries or museums. Art-curious myself, I usually settled for solo trips to local exhibits, convinced that my sons would swan around the gallery in melodramatic boredom after three minutes in a space clearly meant for thinking adults.
However, my wife and I did take them to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art not long after it opened. What a scrum of masterworks that was! I saw my first in-person Jackson Pollock that day, frozen in place for 10 minutes as it laid its eggs in my brain. (Look, kids, daddy’s blitzed on art!)
You’d think a nice goopy abstract painting would capture a kid’s attention, if only in a hey-I-could-do-that kind of way, and I wondered how to explain to the kids what little I understood about Pollock’s achievement. Totally wasn’t necessary. Asked about their favorites, two of the three quickly picked the Rubens canvas depicting Salome inspecting the severed head of John the Baptist. Well, of course. Shoulda seen that coming. No explanation required, either: For young boys, a cool beheading is its own explanation. The third son preferred a winsome drawing by Paul Klee, which made me think he’d develop at least a small affinity for complex visual art. Turns out I was right: His affinity is small. Mostly he likes stick-figure webcomics.
Still, it’s never too late to introduce your kids to art. In the last few years, my youngest son has started going to some galleries with me, showing a cautious openness to contemporary art. He’s 21.
But you needn’t wait that long. We’ve asked some art-savvy parents how they implanted an appreciation for the stuff — seeing it, making it — into their kids. Scott Dickensheets
The goal is to introduce him to a skill set that he can use to make a difference in the worldJoseph Watson, ArtistIntroducing my child to art is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. My wife, Tamara, and I have a 3-year-old son whose name is Joey. My art signature happens to be “Joee.” My son is already following in my footsteps.
Often, my son comes with me to art events and down to the studio. Most of the time, he will observe me paint until he asks me to give him something to paint with.
I’m sure my son knows the process of creating a life-changing image from a blank canvas. Time after time, he walks through our house and just points to the paintings on the wall and shouts, “Daddy made that!”
When Joey, Tamara and I are at a gallery or museum, I teach him how to respect the art first by observing. Usually, during this observation time, Joey says “Da Da made that?” I tell him no, but it is still something cool. Also, when I drop him off at daycare, they have paintings in the hall that we walk through. We count the paintings as well as acknowledge their existence. Usually, I don’t wait until he has questions. It’s either him asking right away, or me saying, “Isn’t that cool?” At the end of the day, I can truly say that my kid has an understanding of the basic value of art. Hopefully, he will share it with all of his friends!
Kids need art. It soothes them and grows their minds. The goal for me isn’t to force my son to end up as a successful artist, but to introduce him to a skill set that he can use as an optional way to make a difference in the world or perhaps make a great living.
Recently, I started working on a joint creative project with a company called LVCK. On Saturdays, I usually bring a few of the pieces down to the studio, along with Joey. On one particular Saturday, Joey was watching me draw on one of the pieces. Some customers came in, and I got up to talk to them. After a few minutes, I turned around and Joey was scribbling on my drawing. I was shocked, and so was he because of my reaction. Little did I know, this would be our first father/son collaboration. I embraced his scribbling technique and used it throughout. Believe it or not, that piece got many compliments on First Friday for its loose quality.
Observe and learn it for yourselfMichele Quinn, Gallerist, arts consultantSince my daughter was born, I have brought art into her life in various ways. While we have works at home, she has also been to major museums, Chelsea galleries and art fairs — and she is 4. I have always gone with the idea that she should learn to look at art and really absorb it for herself — in her own way — not what I think she should know. Of course, the first rule is DO NOT TOUCH! She knows quite well that we don’t touch artwork/sculpture or anything on the walls!
I have also made a point of finding children’s books that are specific to art and art history, but also fun. One of our favorites is When Pigcaso met Mootisse (about a pig and a bull who were famous artist friends). So just her visual exposure to these masterworks will hopefully resonate in her brain in the years to come.
Parents should bring their children to museums at an early age; don’t just rely on schools to take them. Ask them to tell you what they see — you will be surprised at some of the answers and may learn something yourself. I apply this to my clients as much as my daughter: Don’t have someone else tell you what you need to know about art, observe and learn it for yourself. What do you see? How do you feel when you look at it? She will now spot things that I don’t see, with such a fresh perspective.
As for making art — have fun! Don’t worry what it looks like!
I feel no need to push her in any one directionMiguel Rodriguez, ArtistMy daughter, Magdalena, is a special case. I’m an artist and her mother is an elementary art teacher, so, really, there never was an introduction, per se. For her, art and the act of creating just always was. It is important that she have an appreciation for art, but I feel no need to push her in any one direction. My mom raised us without judgment and unnecessary expectation, and that’s the way I try to raise my daughter.
My mother inundated me and my siblings with art endeavors. I took ballet and tap dancing, cake decorating and all manners of visual-arts classes. I ate it all up with gusto. I’d say that the way she raised us definitely oriented me toward being an artist. That said, it never really felt like we were being introduced to art as much as we were being given tools to be creative. That gets to the crux of how I feel about my daughter’s art education. The important thing is that she has a grasp of how to use her brain to express herself and create something ... anything. It need not be art, generally speaking. A creative person is a smart person, and that’s all I want for Magdalena.
The best way to teach my son art is to immerse him in all of itGig Depio, ArtistI’ve always felt that children are naturally drawn toward art because it is an immediate way of expressing their understanding of the world around them. Art helps them sort through memories and the relationships between them without having to wrestle with their limited speech. Introducing my son to art at an early age has helped him sharpen many ideas by making concepts visually tangible. This, I believe, has helped him develop a much more vivid imagination and improve some of his skills in problem-solving.
My dad, who was an art professor at the university, believes it’s never too early to teach children the same techniques as in art school. He insisted that children absorb these lessons differently because their minds are like a clean slate, without grown-up prejudice.
So I started seriously teaching my son oil painting when he was 11 years old. At this age, he was making a total mess, but I gave him the freedom to experiment with the paint because my primary goal was to get him used to it and get over his initial anxiety and hesitation — two major obstacles to artistic expression. He still makes a bit of a mess now, but with my supervision his strokes have become much more mature and free. In fact, he has already sold some paintings, one of them during a fundraiser at the Paris Las Vegas last year.
I also believe that art provides a kind of healing in children. My son has been diagnosed with ADHD, and has always had difficulty focusing and completing tasks. In my experience, art has helped my son calm down and concentrate. He now gets lost in the moment.
We purposely never formally talk about art. I grew up in a gallery, which was our house, and we would have guests every day, different artists and collectors alike. Just like myself, my son grew up with artists and their works all around him. I feel that the best way to teach my son art is to immerse him in all of it, get him to work on his own paintings, and then let him tag along throughout the entire Las Vegas art scene. We never really talk about it, but I make sure he feels that he is actually part of the whole social presence. And in the process, he does get it, including unfamiliar pieces or genres. Art then becomes second nature in children, and this, in my opinion, fosters the most important values every budding artist should have today.
If you’re excited, chances are the kids will be stoked, tooDawn-Michelle Baude, Art criticKids and visual art go together. They draw pictures whenever there’s a scrap of paper or a tablet at hand. So why are art outings greeted with less enthusiasm, than, say, a visit to Wet ’n’ Wild?
Because kids suspect there’s something they’re supposed to “get” when looking at fine art. Some information, some knowledge or wisdom. And that means looking at art isn’t just play. First, it’s learning how to see. Then it’s learning about the artist and technique, about culture and ideas.
… Uh-oh. Maybe going to see an art exhibition is like going to school, minus friends and free time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even the most resistant kids can enjoy looking at fine art. Here’s how:
• YES! We’re going to an art exhibit! If you’re excited, chances are the kids will be stoked, too. Use your Super-Parent powers: Hide reservations about the outing beneath the Cloak of Invisibility. This is going to be so much fun!
• Choose appropriate works. Young children respond to bright colors and vigorous, abstract forms better than dark works or detailed pictures. Older kids favor representational art, because they like figuring out the story — who the person is in the composition or what event is being portrayed. Teen taste goes either way: abstract work syncs with rebellion, realism makes them feel more secure. Because one of the many purposes of art is to shock viewers into awareness, do research beforehand to ensure subject matter lands in the comfort zone.
• Interview your child about the art experience. Dialoguing is key to art appreciation, and reinforces an important skill: translating a visual experience into a verbal one. Imagination is key in making the leap. What is the artist picturing? Why does this photograph make you think of outer space? How does this sculpture remind you of our backyard? Prefer specific questions to general ones, open-ended questions to yes/no.
• Use the exhibit space to your advantage. Observe the artwork from 10 feet away, four feet and as close as you can get. Big pieces, designed for distance viewing, reveal treasures up close. Small format works morph into abstraction from far away. Frontal views differ from diagonal views. Try a variety of positions, especially when viewing a work for the first time.
• Use the body to enhance the visual experience. Choose a comfortable frontal position, have the kid squint and watch the image transform. High-contrast works may produce a visual jolt if eyes are closed to the count of five and then opened. Stare at blocks of color and then look at another part of the artwork or the wall to induce mild optical illusions. Look first with one eye, then the other, to experience how the artwork changes when binocular vision goes mono.
• Investigate synesthesia. Although synesthesia — when input to one sensory system triggers a response in another — affects only about 1 percent of the population, among kids (and artists) the percentage is believed to be much higher. What sound does the lemon-yellow line make? What do blue triangles taste like? Does the black sky feel more like cotton or wood? Even if the kids aren’t synesthetic, they may still enjoy the game.
• Read representational works as you would books. Discuss the setting — indoors, outdoors, day or night? Ask questions about the “characters,” including names, where they come from, what they’re thinking, what’s happening around them that’s not in the picture. Young readers with storybooks under their belts have little trouble finding a plot. Ask what the person was doing just before he or she was portrayed, or what’s going to happen if you could see the next drawing or painting in the story. Visually literate teens can apply skills from years of experience with advertising to interpret artwork messages.
• Don’t quash weird responses — ask for elaboration. The quickest way to ruin the art experience is to “correct” the interpretation, even if it’s way off the mark in terms of artistic intention or how the artwork is often discussed. Praise the kid’s effort without underestimating accuracy, since even the most naive viewers can agree with the most seasoned critics. Offer alternative interpretations to stimulate new ideas, and gently guide older, more engaged viewers toward deeper understanding.
• Show them you can play, too. Tell them what you think, see and imagine. Comment on the titles, share information about the artist, explain materials and venture information about how the work was made. Offer comparisons between artworks — those in the gallery, those you’ve seen in the past. Most of all, describe how the work makes you feel. Sharing emotions strengthens bonds and teaches kids that art isn’t just what you see, it’s what happens inside, too.