Afternoon at the Museum: Part One

My Mom was an art history major. When I was a kid, we planned family vacations around visiting museums and historic sites. Some of my memories are of eye-opening and life-enriching moments. But many of my memories are of walking through seemingly endless art galleries and being bored.

Now that I have kids, and I’m volunteering at an art museum, I’m thinking about how to make art museums fun for children. Exposing my kiddos to art is important to me. I want them to see what is possible when you translate a vision inside your head to a physical representation of that vision. But how do I expose them to art without boring them and making me count the minutes till cocktail hour?

Denver Art Museum caters to kids. They have countless activities to help engage children in the art they are seeing. But what about smaller museums, or galleries, with fewer or no activities for kids? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I came up with a few strategies.

I decided it was critical to divide and conquer. I’m taking my son and daughter on different days. I don’t want to listen to them fight; I want to create an experience that both my kids and I will enjoy. And I don’t want them to influence each other. They are very different people and should have the chance to experience and express what they’re seeing without the other child’s opinions interfering.

Yesterday, I took my eight-year-old son to the Clyfford Still Museum. Still was one of the founders and leaders of the abstract expressionist movement. The museum is a stone’s throw from the Denver Art Museum, so we tacked on a quick visit to DAM after we finished at the Still Museum.

First, I sold him on the afternoon as a special date with Mama. He took a shower (no small feat in my house) and put on a button-down (again, no small feat). I prepped him a little by explaining that you need to respect the art and the other visitors by walking and using a quiet voice.

When we got to the museum, he wanted to go upstairs right away. He was fascinated by the architecture of the building and kept asking if something was wood or concrete. The current exhibit is about Still’s replicas. We looked at the similar paintings, side-by-side in most cases, and shared what we saw that was unique to each painting. The museum has a guide for how to engage kids in art. We looked through that as well.

I let him go at his pace. At the end of the tour, he sat down at the table with videos and headphones and became absorbed in a video about Still. My son is a history fanatic. When I asked him if he was ready to leave, he said his video wasn’t over yet. I smiled because I was ready to go, and he wasn’t. 

Between school, hockey, soccer, ballet, and music, I have so few opportunities to spend this kind of time with each child, and it’s important. I’m also realizing that the time I have with my kids is finite. When he turns nine next year, my time with him as a child will be half-over. I’m determined to cram as much positive one-on-one time as I can into the next nine years.   

kid meets abstract art for the first time
my kid meets abstract art for the first time

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