How to look at art with children

Maria Christina Sayn Wittgenstein Nottebohm / 29 June 2017

Become an ‘art detective’ with your grandchild to spark a life-long love of art.



Britain is a treasure trove of art, whether you plan to visit cities, small towns or country houses.

Turn your museum visit into a fascinating journey of discovery with the following tips:

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How to prepare for your museum visit with children

Prepare your visits together with your grandchild on the Internet.  The more you involve them, the more fun you will have. 

Visit the websites and make a pre-select of important pictures in the museum. 

The young art detectives will quickly be able to tell the difference between a great painting and a mediocre one. 

Gently guide them, but let them choose (even if you want to see something else).  It empowers them to make the decisions.

How to get the most from your museum visit

See five pictures in depth and leave.  You can zoom through the galleries to get a general idea, but don’t try and see it all.  This will result in cranky kids instead of an enriching visit.

If you stick to the seeing few things rule, your kids will fondly remember that art-filled summer with granny or granddad.

Clues for art detectives

  • While you are looking at the paintings listen carefully to what the kids say and build on their observations.  What is the first thing that grabs them, the sunset, a costume or a colour? 
  • Ask them about the temperature, is it summer or winter, cloudy or clear. 
  • Find out “who are you in the painting”- this can be a person or something else, make it a game.

I recently asked a group of kids about Altdorfer’s Battle at Issus, in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.  A 13-year-old girl picked the sun, a brilliant choice in view of the fact that all the people in the picture are warriors. 

To become part of the painting or ‘entering it’, as it were, is the only way that the kids’ excitement will build.  If they remain outside the painting and only hear names, dates and academic approaches, you will lose their interest.

What I cannot stress enough is to listen to everything they comment on and to build on it. They often get the essence of a painting right away and you will be immensely surprised at their brilliant, instinctual observations.  At the end of your visit you will learn from their wisdom, not vice versa. 

Rounding off your museum visit

A postcard of their favorite picture is a great reward.  Encourage them to start a museum journal and paste the postcards with some amusing memory about their time with you and decorate it.  It will be a wonderful thing to have in later years.

With this simple system, you will enjoy every museum visit this summer.  A nice tea with scones and clotted cream would be my personal favorite ending for an art- and fun-filled day.

More tips on looking at art with children

Author Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottebohm will be talking about how to look at art with children at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace on July 4, 2017. To book your place, visit the Royal Collection website.

Read Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children by Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottebohm. Buy it from Wordery

Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children by Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottebohm

Resources for art detectives

The National Trust has a wonderful website which will help making choices that work for your location:

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/houses-and-buildings

Purchase a National Art Pass three months trial for £10 and you will either get in free or at a huge discount.

www.artfund.org/national-art-pass

30 free museums and art galleries

Please note: special exhibitions may be charged for. Please check with the museum website before your visit.

London

British Museum - www.britishmuseum.org/

National Portrait Gallery - www.npg.org.uk/

Saatchi Gallery - www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/

Tate Britain (Pimlico, London) - www.tate.org.uk/britain/

The National Gallery - www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

Victoria & Albert Museum - www.vam.ac.uk/

Scotland

City Art Centre, Edinburgh - www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/City-Art-Centre

Scottish National Gallery - www.nationalgalleries.org/visit/scottish-national-gallery

North East England

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead - www.balticmill.com/visit

Biscuit Factory Gallery, Newcastle - www.thebiscuitfactory.com/

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle - www.twmuseums.org.uk/laing/

East England

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge - www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/

South West England

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery - www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/bristol-museum-and-art-gallery/

Victoria Art Gallery, Bath - www.victoriagal.org.uk/

West Midlands

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham - www.ikon-gallery.co.uk/

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Birmingham - www.rbsa.org.uk/

Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton - www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk/wolves

East Midlands

Nottingham Contemporary - www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/

Yorkshire & the Humber

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull - www.hullcc.gov.uk/ferens

Millenium Gallery, Sheffield - www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/coresite/html/millennium.asp

North West England

Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool - www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ladylever/

Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool - www.openeye.org.uk/

Tate Liverpool - www.tate.org.uk/liverpool/

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool - www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/

Salford Museum & Art Gallery, Salford - www.salfordcommunityleisure.co.uk/culture/salford-museum

South East England

Ashmolean Museum - www.ashmolean.org/

Southampton City Art Gallery - www.southamptoncityartgallery.com/

Turner Contemporary, Margate, Kent - www.turnercontemporary.org/

Art festivals for 2017

Folkestone Triennial - www.folkestonetriennial.org.uk/

St Ives September Festival - www.stivesseptemberfestival.co.uk/

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