Fun Art for Kids – The Educational Value of Visiting A Museum

helga

I remember one time when my siblings and I were taken to a small, local art museum and the tour guide told my mother, “Your children are the best behaved and most attentive I’ve ever had the pleasure of leading. I usually don’t like having children on a tour, but yours are the exception.” My mother replied that we had been to many museums and we were used to seeing art. The guide said, “It shows. Kids usually giggle at the nudes and point at the body parts. Your children respected the work and paid attention to the lessons the paintings and sculptures have to teach.”

We had been to many museums. Our parents weren’t artists or scholars but they enjoyed learning as much as some people do. Neither had graduated from college though both had attended for a year or two. My father always said he could learn whatever he needed by going to the library and my mother took my siblings and I to the library on a regular basis. The librarians knew our names. Public institutions instill wisdom. Many a successful person and autodidact has gotten his or her start by admiring the displays in a museum. A family that visits museums exposes children to accessible knowledge on a level anyone can appreciate. A museum fosters wonder for the expertise of scholarly opinion and the best cultural products that civilization produces.

I remember that my sixth grade class was taken on a field trip to a big city museum to see an traveling exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s work. The permission slips that were sent home with students warned that there would be a painting that contained a nude woman. The teacher made sure to show it to the class, along with other pictures, in order to staunch the gaggle of giggles she expected to accompany its viewing. Wyeth’s naked Helga in profile staring at an open New England window in seer light is anything but titillating. It is a study of modulated flesh tones and umber. I don’t recall anyone in reacting to it in the classroom but when they witnessed it in person in the museum, both boys and girls stared and commented. That is the power of art. Many of the comments were juvenile, as would be expected since most of them had never been in a museum before or seen a genuine painting by a master. In any sense, this was fun art for kids, even if the fun was intellectually stimulating.

I stood in front of many of the pictures in that show rapt in admiration of Wyeth’s craftsmanship. No one noticed much until we were in the room with the nude. As I studied the play of painterly light through Helga’s window, one of the boys said, “What are you, in love?” No, I wasn’t in love. I was honing my young senses and developing a sense of taste and sophistication. A chaperone noticed that I was studying the brushstrokes that Wyeth used to sketch the floorboards rather than ogling Helga’s breasts. As an adult, I am a painter.

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