Teaching Children to Appreciate Art

I have a confession to make: As a child, I hated visiting museums and galleries. I grew up in rural Idaho where the closest art museum was a day’s car ride away, so this shouldn’t have been a problem. My father is an artist, however, and this meant that we travelled extensively to shows and galleries. Many of our travels involved traipsing through art galleries and museums for hours on end.

Art was an everyday part of my life as I watched my dad work, and so it was hard for me to think of a visit to a museum to look at hundreds of works of art as an adventure.

I’m sure I found some of the art interesting, but after ten or fifteen minutes in a museum, I would have seen enough. I’m sure my parents endured a great deal of complaining and whining from me and my siblings. I couldn’t imagine that my parents truly found the art interesting – I suspected that they derived some kind of sadistic pleasure out of dragging us through the galleries until our eyes bugged out and our legs buckled.

Last week Carrie and I took our children on a tour of upstate New York, bits of Pennsylvania and Northern Ohio. We visited historic sites, Niagara Falls, and took in the green, wooded countryside (quite a shock for our desert-dwelling children).

We ended the trip in Cleveland on Friday, and since our flight didn’t depart until late in the afternoon I thought it would be a great idea to take our children to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

You should have heard the groans when I announced my intentions! I quickly realized that the baton had passed from one generation to the next and that I was now my parents. Truth be told, I may have even taken some secret pleasure in the whines and groans . . .

The thing is, my childhood visits to galleries and museums did plant the seeds of a deep and abiding love of art. I’m extremely grateful that my parents insisted I experience great works of art in museums. I feel I owe it to my children to provide similar experiences.

And so, we set off for the museum. I had visited the Cleveland Museum of Art previously, and had fallen in love. The museum itself is beautiful, and the art collection is broad and well-displayed. After the Met in New York, Cleveland’s museum just might be my favorite in the country.

Before our visit with our children, I had gone on the museum’s website to find out when docent tours were offered. We arrived just as a tour was beginning. Our docent was an immigrant from Hungary, and her accent made it a little hard for my kids to understand what she was saying. As they became accustomed to her accent, however, and as we visited the various exhibits in the museum, my children seemed to pay more and more attention.

There were whispered complaints about tired feet from our nine-year-old, and some mutterings about the tour being “boring,” but when the tour ended after about an hour, something interesting happened. Instead of wanting to bolt out of the museum, my kids wanted to go back and look more closely at art we had moved by quickly.

Each of our children seemed to find something of particular interest. Our seventeen-year-old daughter wanted to spend more time in the modern art gallery. Our fourteen-year-old son was fascinated by the ornate suits of armor and swords in the Armor Court (of course). Our Eleven-Year-Old daughter loved the ornate china and tea services in the decorative arts gallery. Our nine-year-old was fascinated, if slightly exasperated, by the pop art section, and modern gallery (at one piece she said, “This makes me very angry!” so we talked about what makes modern art so interesting).

This nine-year-old skeptic wasn’t sure what to think of the modern art collection

We saw works by Caravaggio, Monet, Picasso, Sargent, Turner, Warhol, Rothko and many other artists that they have learned about in school through the Art Masterpiece program.

Our docent had shared interesting facts about various artists that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. I was able to share insights from the many biographies of artists’ lives that I have read. I think those extra insights turned what could have been a boring walk around to look at “pictures” into a journey into the history of art.

In the end, the art museum ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip, which does my heart good.

One visit to an art museum probably isn’t life-changing, but I hope we are doing our part to instill a love of the visual arts in the next generation.

How Did You Gain Your Love of Art?

Did your parents drag you to art museums? If you have children, what did you do (or are you doing) to instill a love of art in them? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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