The Joy of Looking

We are concerned with possibility, with opening windows on alternative realities, with moving through doorways into spaces some of us have never seen before.
–Maxine Greene

In her book Variations on a Blue Guitar, renowned education scholar Maxine Greene describes the potential for possibility when a work of art is thoroughly perceived. Sometimes, she says, when we fully attend to a work of art, it is as if the work of art places upon the viewer “a demand that they change, look with new eyes, hear with new ears, become something they have not been before.”

What a thrilling prospect(!), but perhaps also a bit overwhelming. Teaching young children to appreciate art might be considered a downright daunting task. Luckily, it’s easier than it seems. Looking at art with children can provide opportunities to promote language development, problem-solving skills, creative thinking, and more. The reasons why are numerous, and the good news is that the reasons howare just as numerous. From tips and strategies on looking at art to activities that engage all the senses and get creative juices flowing—there is something for every type of learner, at every age.

Let’s start with some simple tips for looking at art with your children, whether in a museum setting or paging through a book. Guide them. Modeling your own enthusiasm for looking at art can serve as a big inspiration for getting your child excited. You don’t need to be an expert on what you are looking at; simply expressing your own enjoyment in engaging with art creates a positive atmosphere.

Let them guide you. Allow your children to choose the works you discuss, and let their interests guide you.

Look and talk. Start simply, by inviting your children to look quietly. Follow up with an open-ended question; one we like is “What do you notice?” For younger children, have them name the shapes or colors they see.

Get up and move. When you are in the Museum, have fun looking from a variety of different angles; get close (but not too close!), then far away. Move from right to left. Ask your child what s/he notices from the different positions.

Make connections. With your child, identify themes that emerge as you look at different artworks, perhaps noticing those that feature people, nature, or animals.

Strike a pose. When looking at artworks that contain figures, note the body language and facial expressions, and discuss what they show you. Invite your child to pose like the figures they see.

These are just a few simple ways to get started looking at art with children. Just relax, enjoy the time with your child, and become open to looking with new eyes, hearing with new ears, and becoming something you have not been before.

Aja Blanc
Artist educator