The Only Four Questions I Ask Kids About Art & The Best Children's Art Exhibits in Dallas this Summer
Post written by Lilly
I have a confession to make. Five years into the game, this summer is the first that I’ll be home with my daughter full time. We have a half day preschool two days a week, and then I’m on my own. Trying not to burn out with a packed schedule or go too stir crazy confined to our home, I've promised us both one outing a week.
While I plan to switch it up, in the Texas summer, museums are a Mom’s best friend. Spacious room to get those steps in, new ideas to explore and, the best part, they pump A/C like the art has to be preserved at a crisp 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The only daunting task of taking a child to an art experience for me can be how to engage in exhibits in a way that inspires meaningful conversations and carves those precious brain pathways. The good news for me is, my first summer out of college I was fortunate enough to intern at the education department at Dallas Contemporary. I walked in with a freshly embossed art history degree, note cards and highlighter in hand, ready to study their current exhibition and impart all of its facts and symbolism onto young children. The executive director blew my mind when she explained my dialogue with our student visitors that summer would be limited to three questions.
At first, I was a little shocked. How could the children get the full experience without obtaining the valuable insight of the artist’s intention and biography? What the program knew better than I, a classic museum brat raised by an arts supporter, is to many, the facts around art can only intimidate. I learned how many people who do not get to be in an art exhibition space by high school, when surveyed, respond that they do not like art because they “don’t get it.” The facts and background that I saw as necessary in exploring artwork can certainly add value to the process but just as easily distract from our personal feeling with the work and even intimidate. Art has become so much about displaying what we know that it can limit our ability to just sit with what we feel. It can easily be thought that if one doesn’t know about an artist before visiting an exhibit, he or she won’t be able to have a full experience.
Now, I take my daughter to museums. We often get to a point in our conversations where our curiosity inspires us to explore the audio tour or provided materials, but, thanks to the insight I learned that summer, that’s not where we begin. My agenda is limited to those three questions I learned one summer, plus one more of my own.
What do you see?
What do you see that tells you that?
What more can you find?
How does that make you feel?
(Something I’ve learned: If a child has a hard time visually exploring an artwork, drawing it is a great start! Most museums have pencils and paper available for this reason, but I always grab a notebook and pencil on our way out the door to help facilitate this and make the most of our time. Markus taught me through his example that kids enjoy this even more if you sit and draw with them yourself.)
I love these questions for making the priority of experiencing art personal. We go deep in exploration to see what we can find, we back our claims with visual evidence, we go back in for more and we get curious and share openly about how it makes us feel. This often inspires us to learn more about the artist’s intention for comparison, but we’ve begun the experience simply recognizing that art is about our reactions, not what others believe we should understand or think about it. A bonus to this process is that there’s no need for us parents to study up before packing the car and heading on an art adventure.
Speaking of adventures, there’s a wealth of summer art programming available in the Dallas area that I am super excited about! Here’s everything on our initial summer art punch list - so far!
This is just the ultimate summer art exhibit line up for me. I’m so excited to see a contemporary art show take focus at the DMA. I’ve been following the Dior exhibit since it’s beginning, so tempted to travel to see it each time I saw photos, and couldn’t be more proud or delighted it will be in Dallas. Last time Heidi and I went to a fashion-focused exhibit (Jeremy Scott at Dallas Contemporary) we had weeks of ideas around making, exploring processes and design. I think Jonas Wood and Dior are a wonderful complement to each other for taking a group of mixed genders and interests to one fun day at the museum!
I’ve never been to the Arlington Museum of Art (and it’s slightly questionable that they do not currently have any information about this exhibit on their website), but I cannot wait to attend this when it opens at the end of June. I love Keith Haring and am excited to see works that specifically highlight his passion for creating dialogues around social justice. There’s a lot of great conversations to be had in his work around inclusion and practicing respect and empathy for others, and a perfect way to explore the AIDS epidemic and its social reactions if your children are of an appropriate age. All while getting to see such an iconic style up close. A great way to meet up with Fort Worth friends!
I’ll admit that when I first saw the press release for this exhibit I thought, “Ok, LEGOs are cool. We get it.” I was absolutely WOWed with this exhibit exploring how contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya uses LEGO bricks to recreate famous and new artworks. It’s a great way to expose small children to famous works of art in a context they’ll enjoy. I also loved the way the exhibit is presented, showcasing the amount of LEGO bricks in each work and the ratio of size between the artistic recreations and original artworks. Seeing LEGO in this new way, not just for building towers and bridges but for creative expression, has inspired us to play at home in new ways. Another great exhibit for children of different genders, interests or ways of thinking.
I may have to check my bias here as I was fortunate enough to be able to assist with this exhibit before wrapping up my time working at the gallery, but this gallery exhibition for children is phenomenal. Twelve children were selected to curate the show, resulting in a beautiful salon wall of contemporary artworks in the gallery space. There are also floor mats and cheater quilts by contemporary artist Zeke Williams for more rough and tumble exploration, areas for puzzles and drawing and wall installations where children can color and create in a collaborative way with others. This space has all of the trappings of an institution-level children’s area with front door parking, a low key environment and contemporary art (Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE in May and Denton textile artist Taylor Barnes’ SACRED SPACES in June). Sign up for Erin’s emails and be in the know about the story times she has planned, where artists in her program will share their favorite children’s art books.
Where are you headed on art adventures this summer?