July 7, 2016

A Gallery Guide: How to Walk and Talk Art

written by AAC Education Assistant Michelle D. Williams

Galleries and museums encourage wonder and creativity in children! image courtesy of Susan Go
Galleries and museums encourage wonder and creativity in children! image courtesy of Susan Go

Ahhh, summertime…the season of travel, the season of museum and gallery visits, the season of dragging your kids hither and thither in hopes of extracurricular enrichment, cultural experiences, and the development of a broader view of the world…

If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the experience of taking your kids to an art museum or gallery, you’re not alone. Even adults feel overwhelmed by the prospect of intentionally experiencing art, especially in a society that is driven, fast-paced, and focused on productivity.

Convincing a child, then, to slow down and look at, say, a landscape painting and thus recognize its value can be tricky – taking young children to experience artwork can often seem like something not even worth the effort, patience, and time.

However, teaching them to slow down and find ways to relate to art is just as important as teaching them the alphabet before learning to read and write.

Through the process of learning to relate to art, children, and adults alike, build skills that transfer to all areas of life – such as critical thinking, emotional development, communication, and language and literacy skills. Looking at, thinking on, and talking about art also increases social and cultural awareness.

To get started teaching your children how to be active, engaged, and well-behaved in a gallery setting, we thought you might be able to utilize these three simple steps:

1) Gallery Rules – Be sure to go over the code of conduct before going into the gallery or museum

Two young boys enjoy the art of Maggie Gourlay in last season's SOLOS. photo by Kate Ingram
Two young boys enjoy the art of Maggie Gourlay in last season’s SOLOS. photo by Kate Ingram

Obviously, the first and most important thing to do is to have fun! Adhering to the rules of the gallery allows parents, children, and other guests to explore the exhibits in joyous freedom. These rules will come in handy whenever you’re in a museum or art gallery, or even  in someone else’s home.

The top two rules (we can never decide which one is more important) are: no touching and no running. Remind your young gallery-goers  to walk (don’t run!), and not to touch the artwork or the walls.

Also, you could have them clasp their hands behind their backs, or, better yet, have them bring a sketchbook to record what they see. Another great strategy is to ask them to write out questions or thoughts they have about the artwork.

Finally, be sure to look for interactive works, which allow them to break one of the main rules. These are often marked by “Please touch” signs, accompanied by directions on how to interact with the art.

2) Inquiry Based Learning – Critical thinking and investigative curiosity are a key skills that everyone can (and should) use throughout all aspects of life

Artist Mariah Anne Johnson asks students from AAC's after school program to talk about what they see in her installation from last year's Curators Spotlight exhibition
Artist Mariah Anne Johnson asks students from AAC’s after school program to talk about what they see in her installation from last year’s Curators Spotlight exhibition

 

One of the best ways to teach children about art is to simply ask questions (a good practice for adults too!).

So often, it’s easy to fly by an artwork that looks unusual or strange, without stopping to observe and absorb it; to formulate questions about it.

Before coming into the gallery, prepare yourself with a list of questions that could be used to prime your curiosity to explore any piece of artwork.

Some good questions are: What do you see in this piece? What does it make you think or wonder about? What would be a good title for this artwork? Why?

3) Visual Thinking Strategies – Verbalizing your thoughts and ideas about what you see

AAC summer campers investigate an installation from last year's PLAY exhibition
AAC summer campers investigate last year’s PLAY exhibition in the Tiffany Gallery

 

This involves describing, relating, analyzing, interpreting and evaluating. Some simple ways to encourage this process would be to ask questions.

For example: What words would you use to describe this artwork? How would you describe the lines and colors in this artwork? What things do you recognize in this artwork? What sounds would this artwork make if it could make a sound? Pretend you are in the artwork – what does it feel like? Is it cold or hot?

AAC summer campers investigate an installation from last year's PLAY exhibition in the Meyer Gallery
AAC summer campers investigate last year’s PLAY exhibition in the Meyer Gallery

To simplify this process, we have created a Visual Thinking Worksheet, which will help kids (and grown-ups!) focus on the artwork while keeping curious hands occupied!

Be sure to make a few copies.  You may even want to print out one for yourself. Don’t forget the most important thing is enjoy the experience!

Follow these guidelines and you’ll instill a lifelong love of art, exploration, and adventure in yourself and your children!

 

Practicing these techniques together with your children will enrich every art and culture experience you share for the rest of your lives, making it exciting and rewarding to visit “stuffy” museums, relate to “pretentious” artworks, or even rekindle a waning passion for art. Just remember to tell yourself (and your children) that there are no right or wrong answers.

Obviously, we hope these easy strategies will inspire a trip to view our current exhibitions, and make your visit more enjoyable when you do! We also want to invite you to take a look at our upcoming youth camps and adult classes that explore a variety of techniques, contemporary artists, and artforms.

Art classes are a formal way of learning observational skills, but you can practice looking at and talking about art at AAC every week, Wednesday through Sunday, 12 pm – 5 pm. See you around the galleries soon!

Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics

June 15 - September 8, 2024

Curated by Al Miner
Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington is proud to present Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics, an exhibition celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Summer Camp Registration

June 17 – August 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington offers a wonderful and wide range of creative summer camps for your creative students! Camps are offered for kids starting at age 5 and up to teens ages 18.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.

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