Sunday, March 25, 2012

A visit to the art museum

Last week, my daughter was supposed to visit the Ann Arbor Hands on Museum with her preschool class. Unfortunately she woke up that morning vomiting. We spent the morning resting and then felt fine, but I thought it was best to keep her home, just in case. After all, it's a much shorter distance to a bathroom at home than in a museum! :) She was so disappointed though. I told her that if  she was well the next day we could go to a museum of her choosing. After a lot of thinking, she decided that we should go to the Detroit Institute of Arts. We don't get to go very often, but it has such an amazing collection. So on Friday, off we went!

She was in charge of the map and led the way through the museum.

Here are a few of Abby's favorites:

And a quick pause while she was exploring the gallery that holds the suits of armor. The archway behind her holds the Detroit Industry mural by Diego Rivera, which was preparing for a special event so we didn't go in this time.

And one of my favorite paintings. It's called Winter in Moonlight, by Ernst Kirchner, a German Expressionist painter. The art of the German Expressionists were considered to be degenerate by the Nazis and many were lost and destroyed.

Abby was fascinated by this piece, which was right by the elevator we were trying to use to get to the 3rd floor. Eventually we figured out that that particular elevator doesn't get to the third floor public spaces, only staff offices. Oops!

We both liked the wooden motorcycle:

And this piece was fun to talk to Abby about.

After we explored for a couple of hours, we headed home. We'll have to go back soon and explore some more. My mother helped to develop a strong love for museums in me as a child, which eventually led me to study Art History and Museum Studies and work in a museum. I don't expect Abby to follow my footsteps, but I hope that I can teach my children to love history and art and appreciate the beauty that can be found in museums and the world around them.

Some of my tips on visiting museums with children:

Let them be in charge of the map.
I think that one of the reasons kids develop an aversion to museums is that adults are always in charge of the visit. If we let them take the lead, it allows them to explore at their own pace and discover how amazing museums can be.

Ask questions.
What is happening in the picture/sculpture, etc? What is the story about? What colors/shapes did the artist use? Even if they are completely off the mark according to the label, does it really matter? With young children, I don't think it does. They have an incredible imagination - let them use it! Don't talk down to them, they hate that. And if you don't know something, don't make something up so you sound smarter than them. Take advantage of the labels and more importantly, the museum staff. They are there to help!

Listen to them.
There is a saying we we tell our museum staff. "You were born with 2 ears and 1 mouth because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak". Listen to what your kids are saying and you will be amazed at what you hear. Kids are really smart!

Don't criticize.
Keep an open mind with kids. Don't make comments about what they know or don't know, what they like or don't like. Why is their opinion and insight less valid than yours?

Don't be afraid.
That may sound strange, but hear me out. Many adults are afraid of museums. They can be big, with grand architecture. People tend to be quiet in museums or speak in hushed tones about things like artist intentions, proportion, use of light, blah, blah, blah. It can feel intimidating if you don't "know anything about art". Remember that the point of a museum is to learn. Labels can help, but don't rely soley on them. Honestly, some are very badly written and are in a formal, academic format. Trust your own instincts. You aren't a bad person if you aren't blown away by the Monet on the wall. Find what you like and go with it! Don't panic if your child wants to see a piece of art up close. Lift them up, study it closer together. Then step back and look at it from a distance. Does it look different now? Don't be afraid to talk. Be respectful of the others in the museum and don't allow children to shout at the top of their lungs, but there is no need to hush them to a whisper.

I don't mean tag. But give them clues and have them find the art you are talking about it. Talk about color, imagine what kind of food might have been served on the plates, name the dog in the painting, etc. Have fun!

Go at their pace.
Don't expect to see everything at the museum. When you get your map, look over it together. Show them the different areas and talk about where to start. But remember, that most kids won't understand what 18th Century European Art means, and I think we can generally agree that a title like that sounds rather stuffy, right? Try to give examples of what they might find in the galleries. A good map will include a couple of images so you can show them what they might see, but don't worry if kids just want to start exploring without a plan.
Don't expect to spend all day in a museum. Kids will get overwhelmed, tired, and hungry. Don't plan a visit when they would normally be getting ready for a nap. When they are ready to go, don't force them to stay. That's when museums stop being fun, for everyone. I usually have a couple of hours before the kids are done. At that point they either need a break (step outside or have a snack in the restaurant) or we head home.

Be respectful.
A museum isn't a playground. It isn't your home. Remember that the collection in a museum is there because its important. It needs to be there for the next person to enjoy. If you can't take pictures, be an adult, respect the rules and don't try to sneak a picture. Set a good example and follow the rules at the museum - they are there to protect the collections so everyone can enjoy them. Teach your children to be respectful of the rules and the other patrons of the museum.

 Follow up.
If the museum allows photographs, great! Those will be great memories for the kids to look at later. Does the museum allow sketching? If it does, bring a little notebook and a pencil and let them draw what they see in the museum. You'll be amazed at what they draw and their skills at it. Don't bring pens, markers or crayons. Remember that one of the main purposes of a museum is as a steward of the collection. Pens, markers, and crayons can leave permanent marks. Not that your child will draw on the art itself, but marks could be left on the floors, benches or walls. Accidents can happen!
After your visit, look up art online. Many museums have created digital collections so you can view the art at home. Maybe your child fell in love with the Egyptian art at the museum. Look up other Egyptian art online, and talk about the culture, pharoahs, and other bits that will interest them. Art connects the dots in history - people, events, food, fashion, etc. Google Art Project is a great site to check out - it allows you to explore 17 museums from around the world in a Google Streetview type of format - very cool!

1 comment:

  1. What a great post, Melanie! Thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful information! I always enjoy a visit to a museum or art gallery!...Nancy :o)