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.

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

We ended the trip in Cleveland, 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.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

16 Comments

  1. Jason, Welcome to Cleveland! Until retiring in 2020 I taught art at a high school walking distance from the Cleveland Museum of Art and had plenty of opportunities to take my students. Isn’t it wonderful!?
    Many years earlier, while living in Buffalo, New York, I recall one day taking my 3 year old son to the Albright-Knox Art Museum. It wasn’t the 1st time, but was memorable because as we walked around observing a temporary exhibit of wood and wire sculptures my son started critiquing the artwork. He was fascinated because they had a nautical feel to their structure and his daddy raced sailboats. He talked about balance, converging lines, comparing the materials, and other elements that would normally come out of the mouths of adults. This went on for about 20 minutes. While he was totally immerced, I noticed he had drawn quite a crowd listening to his critiquing. Imagine that! … a 3 year old docent!

  2. I did not ever go to an art museum as a child, nor to a gallery of art. My first art museum visit was to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to see an Impressionist Show. I fell in love with this museum and found a love for it. I had been painting for probably about 10 years by that time. My children, a girl and a boy, and the grandchildren (4 – 2 boys and 2 girls) grew up seeing me paint and represented by galleries. Both of my children have an appreciation for all kinds of art. I have made them play with art when growing up, but neither are artists. To help my grandchildren I have created opportunities to create and play with art. For the two male grandchildren, I created a scavenger hunt for two of them (both boys) in the Booth Museum near me. I knew their ages, 10 and 14, might be a good age for it. I hope it has made them enjoy an art museum a little more by having done this with their grandmother!

  3. In High school we had a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art ( I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio). It was my second museum visit. As a grade schooler my class went on a field trip to the Akron Museum of Art. Hint..a really nice art museum! I was already an artist in my mind. An artist friend of my mother would lend me books, My Dad’s brother was an art teacher and he would give me art supplies. My father was a fan of the old masters of Rembrandt and Vermeer. So he and my Mom made the trek to Toledo Ohio (and another must see art museum) during a traveling show and sent me a book on Vermeer while I was at college. I was lucky that my blue collar tire building Dad was a self taught man and loved classical music and art. He was born in a cabin in Eastern Tennessee and raised in poverty. It took me a while to understand how blessed I was with parents who championed me in my artist endeavors. It turns out that although I was eager to leave Ohio behind as a young adult…Ohio is quite the art state. Great art schools and museums.

  4. This article brought back memories of taking my nieces to the National Art Gallery in Ottawa Canada where they professed to be bored out of their minds, But I kept at it and eventually had them just pick one painting per room to look at in depth and talk about for a few minutes, then we moved on. That seemed to work. They still recall those trips and discuss being bored though! SIgh.

  5. That’s why I taught Elementary and Middle school students Art. And we always scheduled trips to the Art Museums…some of my students said that was the very first time they had ever been to an Art Museum! I was shocked to hear this. We did follow up lessons and talked about our experiences. So, I feel very good that because I cared so deeply about Art and how necessary it is to our lives, that I was in a position to share with many students…for 28 years!

  6. What a treat to see my hometown museum in a blog from Arizona! My love for art started with the illustrations in picture-books at the Cleveland Public Library. I spent a lot of time in our local branch, and once my mom took me to the main branch downtown to see a special exhibit of book illustrations and watch a movie (The Red Shoes). I felt like a princess walking up the marble staircase (the library is architecturally awesome) and I was hooked! My love for all the arts (drawing, painting, dance, architecture) started that day. I tried to recreate this experience with my son, but he complained of being tired at the museum, as your kids did, and wanted to know why all the people in the paintings and sculptures were naked! …sigh…

  7. Love this article, Jason. I’ve just been reading parts of it to my 14-year-old son who groans at the thought of going to a gallery—but seems to secretly enjoy it when he gets there. đŸ˜†

  8. I encouraged my daughter to take her partner’s three children (about 6, 8 and 10) to the Kingston Prize Portrait Competition at the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque. They had not been exposed to much art and I wondered how to get them to enjoy it. After thinking a bit, I told her to ask them to answer three questions for each painting – 1. What was the painter feeling when he looked at the model? 2. What was the model feeling as he or she sat for the painter? and 3. What do you feel when you look at the painting? The children took the instructions with great seriousness and had a discussion in front of each painting. Then they voted for the People’s Choice, each with valid reasons for the painting they chose. Apparently, while they walked around the gallery, they gathered quite a crowd of adults behind them, and the adults started discussing the same questions. I was glad the visit was such a success but just wish I had been there with them!

  9. I did not receive much of an introduction in Art from my parents. But I “torchered” my 3 kids in the study of various artists and their place in history. They were homeschooled so, I was their teacher. They had no choice. We lived, (as I do now) in Northern NY near the Canadian border along the St Lawrence River. ) We don’t live far from the Remington Art Museum in Ogdensberg, NY. I’d take them at least every other year. Our other non-museums would be whatever I could find in books from the library or on the PBS station. Now they are adults, they still enjoy going to museums of art occasionally.

  10. Morning, as a child my Dad and Mom would take us to several exciting vacation spots but she took us to museums as well. To many to name haha she wanted us to be well rounded in what life gave us in the knowledgeable world of ours. She didn’t get much education nor did my Dad. So when I became a Mom I did just that. Plus it was History in many levels. I homeschooled my daughter so I tried to teach her the significance in a well rounded education that this world offered to our fingertips. Music, Art, History and Science…to me all these are veiwed as an art of some kind. I would explain the history and origin of wher and the who what and how..haha. I wanted her to learn like I did. Plus being able to had gone to an art college program I knew how to make it exciting and educational. To this day she still mentions those visits..hah. Oh and I did have to get it approved to take her with me when I went to a University because had no means for a babysitter..the professors would always say yes. So she grew up knowing a little bit of everything..haha she loved it. Anyhow I think personally that kids should be shown all they can when they can about history. I say history because it is.

  11. When children produce art that of course ever parent wants to hang on the frig., it’s important that we have the young artist share their thoughts on their piece. There are several questions that I have found helpful including but not limited to the following:
    What was the hardest part to do?
    What was the easiest?
    With part do you like the best?
    Which part do you like the least?
    If you did this again which part woukd you change?
    How does it make you feel?

    These questions can be varied and changed slightly so they would apply to a Gallery /Museum setting. Which is your favorite? What do you like the best about…?…

  12. I don’t believe we as a family ever went to an art museum. We went to plenty free Sunday concerts at the local University. Great Art (history) work was never part of my schooling. I remember reading “Agony and Ecstasy” by Stone, going to the library, looking up Micelangelo in Encyclopedia Brittanica. (I had a wonderfully supportive librarian)

    My first gallery, was at the University where my Art School was. Every 6 weeks was a new show. The big one of the year was the “Faculty Show”. The rest were either traveling shows or shows put together from the “University Collection”.
    My first museum was MOMA where my life changed. I had suffered through Art History and went to the museum that summer. I saw “Guernica” and 3 Monet “Watercolors”. I couldn’t move for many minutes. I had never seen such large canvasses before nor brush strokes up close.

    From then on, museum and gallery visits were a part of what I did on trips.
    Years later, in Boston, we saw the “Monet in the 90s” exhibit which spotlighted his series studies. My daughter raced through the exhibit barely stopping and waited impatiently at the end for us to catch up. I figured she had seen nothing.
    That was not the case. She ingested the essence of what he was trying to do and was full of questions across the next year.

    You never know. My museum visit list is long. Her interest in art is abiding and her abilities to produce things like greeting cards are deep and exacting keepsakes that amaze me.
    You never know.

  13. While my parents were insanely creative, I do not recall ever visiting an art gallery or art museum with them. I guess raising 11 children and working two jobs left Dad little time for road trips.

    At 16 yrs old, though, I was allowed to travel to my brother Ron’s in Albany, New York for Christmas. He and two of my sisters took an excursion to the Boston Museum Of Art. Like you, I was puzzled as to why we would drive so far to see art. By the time we left, I was hooked! How powerful that one visit was!!

  14. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and visited the museum there quite a few times as I was growing up. My favorite was the court of armor, though I’m not sure why, but I don’t recall ever complaining about visiting. I moved away many years ago but still enjoy a visit to the museum if possible while in town visiting family. Now that I live in New Jersey, I get to visit the Met in NY or MOMA when I can find a day to get into the city. In fact, over the last 10-12 years I’ve made it a birthday treat to head into the Met by myself to wander the galleries at will, have lunch and maybe a glass of wine. Can’t think of a better way to spend the day.

  15. I use to regularly take my two sons to art galleries in Fredericton, New Brunswick but I didn’t want to turn them off enjoying art so it was a quick tour around the gallery! No more than 5-10 minutes. In their early 30’s they still love visiting art galleries and museums during travels to London, Paris, Athens and Rome. I imagine they take more time.

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