Some (big-M) Modern and (little-m) modern Art Work I just saw in Palm Springs….and what I am saying to engage my kids with the pieces. #1: Butterflies and Spiral by CaldersteemCreated with Sketch.

in art •  2 years ago 

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone here on Steem, but I think that most parents have difficulty engaging their children in museum work. I base this on the fact that it seems every time I am in a “real museum” there are parents yelling at kids to behave and kids complaining that they are bored. I rarely see engagement and excitement.

Why is this? I think that most art in museums today is hard. My working definition of “art” is the visual expression of an idea. Art that I love is made of complicated ideas; these things are not readily apparent to a 7 year old. My children (like most) lack the historical or artistic context which makes certain pieces funny, sad, inspiring, etc.

I’ve written before about bringing sketchbooks and having my children draw what they can see . This makes them actually look at the piece and contemplate some of the basics - line, balance, form, color.

However, I want them to be engaged in the ideas of the art as well. This can be hard if you don’t have a lot of background in art - or experience talking about art. It’s hard if the art doesn’t excite you. In that case, it can be helpful to listen to a docent - they are usually very very excited about the current work. They also will know details about context that you can adapt for children. If your kids are old enough and patient enough, walking through a few pieces on a tour can be helpful. However, most young kids can’t really handle more than a few things before they lose interest - as much of a docent’s lecture will be far over their heads.

So, I want to share some art I saw this weekend and how I talk about it with my kids. There are some questions that I ask over and over again when we look at art and my budding critics get better at answering them.

First, by Alexander Calder:IMG_8392.JPG

Butterflies and Spiral, 1975

Many people are familiar with Calder’s kinetic sculptures - I believe he coined the term “mobile.” These pieces are in many major museums and they are impressive to look at. Here is a common example:

Untitled Alexander Calder, courtesy of

Anyway, back at the museum, my eyes were drawn to this 2-d work - the one with butterflies above. . It’s a little easier to think about, and a little easier to replicate.

This piece is well balanced. Calder was obsessed with balance in his scupture and on paper. It is not traditionally balanced - with equal things on both sides, like American Gothic
Image result for american gothic by Grant Wood.

In Calder's piece, you get the sense that the things on the left of the painting are as “heavy” as the things on the right. Why does it feel balanced? What are the heavy components of the painting? Is there another place the butterflies could go that would still feel balanced? Are Calder’s butterflies light or heavy?

I encouraged my kids to replicated the location and the weight of the elements as much as possible in their drawings. Shape fidelity is not the goal on this piece, it is understanding the relationship between the spiral, the butterflies and the colorful swirls.

We will make a project of this at home. This is the kind of project that is all about teaching a concept - not making <a href= > amazing wall art that I can brag about online. I will encourage them to cut out some bright irregular pieces of construction paper and then some animal elements (out of a sacrifical National Geographic.) We will glue these onto a “canvas” and try to arrange them in a balanced way. We will also create a second piece that is unbalanced. This is a quickie project that helps them develop fluency with artist choices and to be more deliberate with their own choices.

Hope that was helpful and helps you speak with your kids about all that is balanced, unbalanced and beautiful!

BeriBeri Quite Contrary
Advocate for Natural Health Care for Babies
Parent of Free Range and Slightly Neglected Toddlers
Promoting Preschoolers and Hot Glue Guns
Encouraging Gambling Kindergarteners

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We love museums! My daughter (7) said at the beginning if this summer "This summer will be soooo boring if we don't get to go to even one museum."
How did we help her (and her brother) to like museums ao much? I think there are 3 keys:

  • Be excited yourself, and show it.
  • Engage them with the exhibits but move on when thay are done, even if you are not
  • leave before they have had too much. We find that this is no longer an issue since the museum usually will close before we're done!

Museums are an important part of our home schooling!

Thanks. I really agree with your third point - it is a huge mistake to try to make a "comprehensive" museum visit. I can't wait until my kids are old enough (and developed enough) to close down a museum!