Art Appreciation 101

Galleries and museums stretch the imagination.

Art Appreciation 101


Summer is a creative season; the warm weather encourages us to slow down and spend time with family. When having an adventure close to home or on vacation, art galleries make excellent destinations, especially on dreaded rainy days!

Kids are imaginative by nature. Their ability to look at, and understand, art comes from a curiosity about the world around them. Encouraging kids to look at art improves their ability to think creatively and helps them understand different cultures or ideas.

Perhaps you’re worried taking your child or teen to a gallery or museum will be a chore. What are the rules? How should they act? The primary rule at any gallery or museum is not to touch the artwork. This ensures the art is preserved for many generations to come.

Many locations offer a hands-on component or creative space so that children (and adults!) can have the sensory experience of touch without damaging any works of art.

If you’re concerned about keeping kids interested, here are five tips for taking your family to an art gallery or museum:

Don’t try to look at every single thing! Galleries are chock-full of interesting things to look at, and you can’t expect to see them all. It can be overwhelming! Keeping your visit to about an hour is appropriate. What is your child interested in? Do they love bright colours? Look at the abstract paintings. Are they interested in airplanes and trains? Check out the historical section. Picking just a few key works or pieces and taking a longer time with each of them will have more impact.

Ask questions. When looking at a work of art, ask your child open-ended questions such as, “What is happening in this picture?” There are no wrong answers! This will inevitably lead to more questions and a conversation about what they see.

With an abstract work of art, your child might tell you they think the artist has painted a city. This could lead to questions like, “Where are the roads? Is the city crowded or empty?” The whole family will stretch their imaginations and learn to communicate ideas with one another. You may be surprised to learn that each of you sees a single work of art differently!

Plan ahead. Most galleries have days with family programming. Many offer free or affordable hands-on activities that will help you see the artwork with new eyes or learn in-depth from an artist. These additional programs are designed by experts to enhance your experience, and engage kids in a deeper understanding of art.

Make it a game. Come up with some simple tasks for your child to complete. A quick scan of a room will help you find some matching pairs, two portraits of women, two paintings with the colour blue, the two largest pieces. Ask your child to find the pairs! Visiting with a teen? Ask your daughter about how beauty is represented in the past, and how she thinks it is different from today. Challenge your son to find a work with a title that could be a video game. The key is to make it relevant to your kids’ interests and experiences.

Galleries and museums stretch the imagination.  Conceptual art, installation pieces, abstract works‚ as adults we are sometimes quick to make decisions about what “is” or “isn’t” art. Children are open to new concepts and don’t always need explanations. Be aware that your child may like different things than you do, and encourage them to explain what they like. Try to encourage a sense of wonder instead of focusing on facts.

Have fun with art this summer!

Author: Jacquie Severs

Jacquie Severs is the manager of Communications & Social Media at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.

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