Art Appreciation for Young Children
Why Fine Art?
Art is an integral part of everyday life. It has such a profound impact on personal development that it’s difficult to understand why more young children aren’t introduced to the visual fine arts, as they inevitably and appropriately are to literature. We know the importance of reading to our children, and that instilling a lifetime love of reading and building their literal dictionary cannot be overestimated. Similarly, it is important to expose children to the universal language of art and to build their appreciation of individuality, beauty, and history as well as building their personal visual dictionary.
One of the joys of exposing young children to art is that they can learn from visual and tactile experience well before they can read. A process of art appreciation educates and speaks to the smallest students; and most young children have a natural enthusiasm for art. Maybe it’s because, as Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
As parents and educators, you may be concerned about what impact the media has on our children, knowing that millions of dollars are spent to control our opinions of what is acceptable and beautiful. Studying fine art—building your child’s own non-commercial visual dictionary–helps kids form opinions as critical interpreters.
Where to Begin
If you’ve never set foot in a museum, consider this a wonderful opportunity to discover something new with your child. Especially for young children, the less said (or the less your child actually knows about the work or artist), the richer the experience. Certainly, learning about the artist’s life, the reason for creating art, and why the artisit and art hold an important place in history is valid—in due time. The early stages of art appreciation should be nothing more than naive exploration. All parents know the joy of watching their child discover something new, but these first steps in art appreciation are truly unique. The world will crowd in eventually and overwhelm your child with the history and interpretations of artwork, but right now, your child has a chance to view master works of art with a truly fresh eye.
Museums and galleries are the obvious place to begin your journey, but if a museum is not convenient for you, visit the art section at your local library. Studying pictures by artist or period can be managed more easily for a parent by using an oversized art book. Additionally, many of the great museums offer “tours” on the Internet and on specially organized CD collections. Keep in mind, not all exhibitions are appropriate for children.
If you can get to a museum, research the exhibits’ appropriateness and make it a special outing with your child. Viewing a powerful exhibit can be visually and mentally exhausting; let your child set the pace, and don’t feel that you need to take it in all in one day. You may even want to purchase an exhibit’s book or catalog, or continue a discussion after your child has had ample rest.
Young children only need as much information as they are capable of requesting. It can be interesting to refrain from even reading a work’s title to them, at least until they’ve had a chance to absorb the work and come to some conclusions on their own. Encourage them to express their views before offering information about the work itself. And the golden rule is: never tell them their interpretations are wrong (even if, in your opinion, those blatantly contradict what the artist intended). A child should feel confident that his opinion is unique and celebrated, and varying opinions are a celebration in diversity–another important lesson the fine arts teach our young ones. As your child grows, you should add more historical aspects on the artist as well as information on the period in which the work was done.
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