Archive for October, 2014

Museums … with Little Ones

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

You might suppose that taking children to an art museum would be very different from making it an adults’ outing. And to an extent you would be right. But in another sense, it needn’t be so very different at all. I recently accompanied my daughter and her children, ages 3 and 5, to the St. Louis Art Museum. Although it’s not nearly as expansive or renowned as the Louvre, which I visited in my last blog, its excellent collection is closer to home, less crowded, and much more manageable on a short visit.

Our primary goal was to show the children what an art museum was all about. Our secondary goal was two-fold—to begin exposing the children to great art and to nourish our more informed adult tastes with food for our own artistic creativity and growth.

First on the agenda was to review rules of museum etiquette with the children—soft voices, no running, stay behind the barriers, look but don’t touch, and stay with the grownups. “This is gonna be such fun!” my three-year-old granddaughter declared happily as we entered the large entry hall. When her older brother said he wanted to see a dinosaur painting we tried to explain that, though some of the paintings were very old, he probably wouldn’t see any depicting dinosaurs. At that he became interested in seeing some of those “very old” paintings.

140914w Learning to Observe

Our approach was to get an overview of most of the museum’s major collections and (for future reference) to see what appealed to the children. We knew we couldn’t cover it all before the children became tired or hungry and would no longer enjoy the visit, so we began by walking through the halls of European realistic work, which we felt would seem familiar and therefore most comfortable to the children.

My five-year-old grandson had picked up a booklet at the information desk and began looking for the art illustrated in its suggested children’s treasure hunt. He happily accompanied us through rooms of neo-classicism, impressionism, and post-impressionism, and eventually pointed out an abstract painting that matched one in his booklet. It was by an artist his mother particularly favored, so she took the opportunity to discuss it a bit. Then he was anxious to find some of the “really old” art, so he led the way downstairs to find the Egyptian collections.

Meanwhile, the children felt free to express their emotional responses to the works we passed, whether something was of particular interest or whether sculptures seemed “scary” or aboriginal masks looked “weird.” Such comments gave us the opportunity to tell the children about the backgrounds or purpose for those pieces, simultaneously affirming their feelings about the art and gently exposing them to unfamiliar cultures.

We let the children’s interests guide us. Grandson discovered a room of arms and armor, admiring various types of swords, daggers, and guns on display. His sister enjoyed the ceramics displays, with their colorful glazes and painted bowls. In the Egyptian room, he was curious about the painted mummy cases and what might be inside; while she was intrigued by sculptures of a black cat and an aqua-glazed hippopotamus. Together they mused about the variety of chair designs on display and discussed with us whether a honeycomb paper chair would be strong enough to hold someone’s weight. Meanwhile, Grandson continued to identify and check off illustrations in his treasure hunt booklet.

The kids took turns pressing elevator buttons to take us to an upper floor that housed collections of work by American artists. The children were well behaved, and showed interest in the native American beadwork and textiles, but after an hour and a half both children were getting restless as they neared the end of their attention span. So we moved them quickly through the galleries to complete our overview of that area. When one correctly pointed out that “We’ve already seen this room,” we knew it was a good time to wrap up our visit and find them some lunch.

So although the approach with children along might have been different from usual, the principles of perusal were the same: We found key pieces of interest to focus on; we focused on them briefly and then moved on to something of fresh interest; and when someone became restless, we changed gears and eventually called it a day with plans to return another time.

The old show biz motto holds just as true with art museums: “Leave them wanting more!”

Museums – Looking in at the Louvre

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

In August I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the Louvre in Paris. I knew there would be far too much to see in the allotted time, but I figured a little had to be better than nothing.

140911w Winged Victory

Entering from the enormous lobby under the I.M.Pei pyramid, my husband and I were swept up in a deluge of the ubiquitous tour groups. We stumbled over and around dazed individuals perusing their maps and fumbling with cameras as we poured up the broad staircase like so many salmon on a suicidal spawning run. We scarcely had time to notice, much less appreciate, the soaring form of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, towering above us from her pedestal on the landing, her wings raised as though to keep them from being clipped by the surging onslaught of humanity.

There was little need to guess which direction to go first. We were drawn with the crowd toward that lodestone of La Jocande—Mona Lisa, where we caught a glimpse of her in her protective case, across the room and over the heads of innumerable gawkers. Having paid our seemingly obligatory respects and being able now to say that, “yes, we’ve seen it in person,” we backed out of the room and escaped to another wing where we could breathe at last.

(I have to admit that I am less taken with La Jocande than many, feeling that her reputation is due more to her familiarity to the general public, her notoriety as the object of an art heist, and the enigma of the subject’s expression, than to the innate beauty of the composition and its even more enigmatic background. Enough said. I’ll leave the contemplation of da Vinci’s portraiture to those who remain enthralled.)

We continued our overview of the galleries based not on the works’ popularity but on where the crowds were not, knowing that wherever we turned we would find subjects well worth our perusal. When the quantity and grasp of the prescribed artworks became overwhelming, we turned our focus to the building itself—the painted ceilings and magnificent architectural detail, which I expect are all too often overlooked by those seeking the iconic paintings and sculpture harbored within its walls.

Having seen Venus de Milo in a far different venue, I did want to see her “at home,” so made a point of seeking her out, only to be thwarted once again by the surging crowds that surrounded my quarry. Although she stood head and shoulders above the mob, I was unable to get close enough to enjoy her flowing lines, to consider the torque and how the balance of her form might have been affected by the extension of her now-missing arms, or to circumnavigate her pedestal to fully enjoy her from all sides, as I had when I saw her in Tokyo many years ago.

There was far more in the Louvre that I still wanted to see. But I left the museum feeling that the very size and reputation of the Louvre had become detrimental to its function.

Like an exquisite food, fine art needs to be savored a bite at a time. After a few investigative tastes, a diner no longer appreciates the delicacy as much as those first few delicious bites might seem to promise. The Louvre provides a veritable smorgasbord of artistic delights. But the glut of masterpieces, the flocking crowds, and aching feet suggest that, even for those of us who are far removed from Paris and don’t know if or when we’ll ever return, the Louvre is more effectively taken as small, repeatable snacks than as an extended feast.