Art Appreciation for Kids {and the Don't Touch Rules}

The following guest post is from Mark McKinney, founder of Artsology.com:

art appreciation for kids

On a recent vacation with my family, we decided to take the kids to visit the local art museum.  For some reason, the boys didn’t want to go (despite enjoying museum visits in the past) and said it would be “boring.”

Nevertheless, we went to the museum, and sure enough the kids’ interest was captured as soon as we entered the front door and saw a huge glass sculpture hanging twenty five feet above our heads.  Facts found on the wall tag, such as the weight of this object approaching 3,000 pounds, and the ridiculous question (posed by me with attempts at dramatic flair), “What would happen if this came crashing down?” quickly grabbed their attention and primed them for a tour of the museum.

I’ve taken my kids, or at least my older son, to museums numerous times, and I can usually engage them in conversation about what we’re seeing so that we all have a good time.  However, on this day, while the conversation was flowing and the interest was strong, the interest in touching the art was even stronger.  We had to keep telling them not to touch, and the security guards seemed tuned in to us, following us around to remind us of the very same thing.

The boys’ curiosity seemed to override our warnings and they continued to try to touch the art – sculptures, installations, paintings, even wanting to point at aspects of framed photographs they found interesting.  It struck me that their natural instinct for exploring necessitated using more than just their sense of sight; they had to touch these objects to help make them seem real and to try to better understand them.

While traditional museums are not going to change their policies regarding touching anytime soon, it made me wonder how we could feed this tactile curiosity and give them a chance to really get physically involved with learning about culture.

For example, in the African Art wing we were sitting next to an amazingly-carved wooden mask (behind glass, so it couldn’t be touched) and watching a video of this same mask used in traditional ceremonial dances.  We could see how the people in the video created these masks by hand, wore them on their heads, and danced with other people.  It allowed us to see this “artifact,” now sitting behind glass, as an artistic object that once was meant to be “used” rather than just “seen,” and how it could be functional as well as beautiful.

Taking kids to museums is definitely a valuable experience for them.  However, I think it’s important to find ways to bring art into their lives in a way that they can touch, hear, smell, and see (I’m leaving out “taste” for lack of a good example).  Encouraging the kids to make art is the easiest and most-direct way for them to get a hands-on experience.  Another idea might be to have kids trade art with their siblings or friends, allowing them to handle their own art “collection.”  Kids need to know that art is not always untouchable and presented in sparse white rooms; it can be an enriching part of our everyday lives.

How do you encourage your kids to experience art with all of their senses?

Mark McKinney is the founder of Artsology.com, a web site which aims to teach kids about the arts (visual art, music, literature and dance) through fun games and activities.  Artsology hopes that enjoyment of these games will act as a springboard to further investigation of the arts and the cultural figures and ideas contained within the site.

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