Art appreciation opens new worlds

With art, start with waht you know

With art, start with waht you know


Perhaps you're not an artist and you don't know much about art.

So if you took your child to a museum, what would you talk about?

Start with what you know, suggests Becky Hendrick, author of "Getting It: A Guide to Understanding and Appreciating Art."

As parents, it's our job to nourish our children's natural creativity, curiosity and sense of discovery, says Hendrick, who teaches art appreciation at University of Texas, El Paso.

Think of art appreciation as another way of investigating and learning about the world.

If you're visiting a museum for the first time, just explore it together. Take your time. Don't feel that you have to see everything. Stop at pieces that interest you. Your purpose could be as simple as reinforcing your toddler's vocabulary.

"There's no age too early. You can take a baby in a pouch," Hendrick says.

Ask questions. What colors do you see? Are all the shapes triangles? As your child ages, start talking about ideas. Point out things. Compare, contrast.


Encourage your child to think about how the artist created the work, suggests Beth Doggett, art teacher at Williamsport Elementary School.

Doggett asks her students, "Was the artist near to or far from the subject? What materials did the artist use?"

If a child studies artwork and tries to determine how it was created, a whole new world can open up for him, says Hilda Eiber, who teaches art classes at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown and Boarman Arts Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

He not only learns how to create, he also learns how to analyze, Eiber says.

Doggett tries to get the children involved personally by asking, "Where would you like to be in this picture?"

Children appreciate learning about artists and love trying to remember the artists' names, Doggett says.

She encourages students to talk about art when she puts a piece of artwork up on the board.

There are numerous local opportunities for children to learn more about artists, Eiber says.

"One of the things we're trying to do is introduce new artists to the children," Eiber says.

Often the classes aren't filled. Eiber thinks it's because parents are unfamiliar with the artists.

Parents and children can learn about artists together, says Elizabeth Stempien, art teacher at Bester Elementary School.

Go to a library and look at large art books together. Use the Internet to view artwork of a particular artist, suggests Stempien, who also teaches summer workshops for children at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Students in Washington County Public Schools also can view the artwork of their teachers at

Going to a museum? Here are some tips from Hendrick, Doggett, Stempien and Eiber:

- Before you go, talk to your child. Tell him there are special places that have special rules: No running. Talk in a whisper. Hold my hand.

- You may want to visit the museum ahead of time by yourself and learn about one piece. Then bring your child back and talk to him about that piece.

- Just as not all books or films are appropriate for children, all artwork is not appropriate for children.

"If you have any questions about the appropriateness of it, call and ask," Hendrick says.

- Seek out museum docents who are trained to talk about the artwork.

- Don't impose your likes and dislikes on your child.

Children imitate the attitudes of others, so keep your opinions to yourself, or at least express them as what they are - personal opinions. There's no need to judge art. Instead, be open to its possible lessons.

- Look at, describe, compare and contrast all sorts of visual things - labels, ads, colors, shapes - not merely art. Then bring this same attitude to the art in museums.

- Don't make value judgments - that's good and this is bad.

"Keep an open and inquisitive and trusting mind that museums know what they're doing," Hendrick says.

- Encourage your child to ask questions. Don't feel like you have to find the answer. "I don't know. What do you think?" may prompt your child to study the artwork more closely. "Sometimes it's easier to have the answers," Hendrick says. "It closes the conversation." Sometimes the questions are good enough as questions, she says.

- Talk about art in context - what was the world like when this piece was created? Why would an artist make this work at that particular time, place, circumstance.

- Encourage your child to respond to the artwork. Ask, "If this big painting were sound, what would it sound like? Let it move through you. Would it be a march?"

"In a museum, you probably just want to do this in your mind," Hendrick says.

- If your child seems disinterested or disruptive, come back at a later date. It just wasn't the right time.

Eiber is teaching two classes this spring at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Ceramic Wind Chimes will be offered May 4 and May 11. Art Nouveau Workshop will be offered June 1 and June 8. For information, call the museum at 301-739-5727.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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