Nearly 20 years ago, after I just moved to London and before I found a job, I used to walk around a lot and experience life on my own. I walked to Soho and to Hampstead Heath, and I stared at tourists in Leicester Square and at old-time Londoners in places the Tube didn't bother to go. One day, during one of those trips of discovering the city and myself, I ended up at the National Gallery, and immediately felt out-of-place. My high school may have taught me the biographies of some artists and the stories behind famous artworks, but it didn't teach me to appreciate art on my own. I was never told how to approach art, and the idea that certain works of art "spoke" to some people seemed like science-fiction.
Here I was, at one of the greatest art museums in the world, not sure what I was supposed to do next. So I turned to leave. But just before I got out, I decided to look at the museum store, and there I came up with a plan. Recently, I used that same plan to help my young kids get an appreciation not just of art, but of their own, individual tastes.
We were at the Baltimore Museum of Art for a while, and my kids started to get bored: art-shmart, but where were the buttons? I don't have anything against museums with buttons -- the Science Center in Baltimore is one of my favorite places in the city -- but art museums should be places we look at art and, well, let the art press our buttons instead.
Minutes into our visit, and it looked like we were done. Mr. "Carry me" and Ms. "I'm hungry!" were starting to make their appearances, and I was about to give up, thinking we would try the museum again when they were older, when I suddenly remembered my 20-year-old museum trick.
"Come with me!" I said, and started running down the stairs. The kids followed me to the museum store, and we stopped by the 60-cent postcards. And here's the trick:
Every museum store has a postcard section that features art pieces from the museum. The kids (and maybe their parents) take a long look at all the postcards, and choose their favorites. You buy the postcards, hold on to them and each person, in turn, starts looking for the art on his postcard.
My daughter was the first to choose a Georgia O'Keeffe painting, and then my son, who took more time to find his own favorite, got a Gauguin. Then we started our quest. And this is the beauty of it all: You don't get spoon-fed information that doesn't interest you and that ends up making you hate art. A kid who picked a Georgia O'Keeffe painting because that painting "spoke" to her from the postcard stand is now interested in the artist, curious about her other paintings and eager to find her art in the museum and elsewhere. A kid who picked a Gauguin wants to know more about him. Art history becomes more than a story about a man who cut his ear off.
And it doesn't end there. The kids still get to keep the postcards, and every time they see this $0.60 piece of art in their rooms, they remember the experience of searching for a piece of art that touched them.
I hope people who read this find the opportunity to try this experiment. Next time you're at an art museum with the kids, start at the museum store, and then get your kids to find their treasures and discover their individuality. If you do that, please come back and tell me if it worked!
The post first appeared on A Blogger and a Father.