October 14th, 2013

This week’s blog is a scoop from the well-known Goop blog, written by none-other than Gwyneth Paltrow. The Blog, and newsletter, are typically fashion and lifestyle focused, with a few hidden gems on collecting and appreciating art. Her fine art tastes are varied, and she often works with her own fine art consultant, to purchase works. Check out Ms. Paltrow’s interview with artist Ellsworth Kelly, in Interview Magazine.

But back to Goop. In the most recent issue, Amy Boyle, the Education Manager at the Nogucki Museum in New York offered some tips on how to make visiting a museum with little ones intriguing and enriching the experience as you view the artwork. She has some great ideas. Below, the interview with Ms. Boyle. 

Jamie Burnes' "Eddie," a favorite with collectors both young and seasoned

Jamies Burnes’ “Eddie” is popular with gallery visitors, both young and seasoned

Q: When you have a group of kids at the museum, where do you start? Any questions or discussion starters to get the ball rolling?

A: The methodology that we use is called inquiry and we generally start by asking “what” questions like “what do you notice?” Set the discussion so they feel they already have the tools for it. With figurative art especially, it’s great to imagine it as a story – who are the characters, what’s happening in the scene, what are the visual clues that are telling you that story?

 With abstract art it’s harder to “read,” so I start out with physical characteristics – what you see. And then we move on from how those things make you feel. Ask about the visual cues like shape, color, texture, and then, “if this were a person, what kind of person would it be?” Trying to make abstract art more narrative is a good approach. In short, you are “scaffolding” the discussion: starting on one level and then building on what the kids say to move up to the next.

You always want to find what we call “hooks” or “connections” that are the things that make kids excited. For instance at the Noguchi Museum, there is a great Noguchi sculpture that’s made from basalt, and talking about the material can often hook kids into a piece. For example, they learn that basalt is a rock formed by cooled lava, that it’s from a volcano (which is very cool to a kid) and they get excited to talk more about the piece.

Q: Association is a very natural method to fall into when looking at abstract art with kids (seeing a round sculpture with a hole in it and saying “that looks like a donut,” for example) but how do you push past that initial point of engagement?

 A: We call what you just described “cloud-naming.” Even if it’s a fun thing to think about, it helps to take the discussion beyond this point because it can be a conversation stopper. Try to get them to see what they’re really looking at first before addressing what it reminds them of. Or, if they do say “it looks like a donut,” then say “why does it look like a donut?” Take them back to the visual cues – to the shape and color, etc.

Q: Are there any activities you can do before the museum to enrich the experience once there?

 A: Many museum websites have resources you don’t know about, drop-in classes, materials to take into the galleries, etc. A “celebrity” factor is always good: showing them a painting or sculpture before going gets them really involved and excited. There are also many great children’s books that introduce art concepts in really fun, playful ways.

LACMA’s Families and Children in American Artonline game is a great intro to the collection.
Centre Pompidou and Gallimard Jeunesse have aPompidou Kids app.
There are many online games for kids in the Met’sKids Zone.
The Tate has a great kids website to get them excited about their visit.
Even while the SFMOMA is closed for renovation, kids can still get familiar with the collection on this cute game led by two dogs.
The MoMA always has the most beautifully printed family guides available. The guide on color is a classic.