Welcome to Part II of “First Encounters With Art”, as we continue to look at ways to teach and be role models for future art appreciators and future artists! The Rickie Report invited Caren Hackman to investigate how to best introduce young people to art experiences and at what age. This is the second section of a two part article, for which Caren consulted with three experts. We are grateful to Glenn Tomlinson and Lyda Barrera and Christina Barrera for taking the time to share their experiences with our readers. Caren Hackman is a fine artist, graphic designer and author of “Graphic Design Exposed”. We hope you will share these articles with friends, family and neighbors. Let’s Keep The Arts Alive!
First Encounters With Art
Glenn Tomlinson has served as the William Randolph Hearst Curator of Education at the Norton Museum of Art since January, 2001. (www.norton.org) Prior to that time he worked in museum education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He lives in Jupiter with his family.
Lyda Barrera has taught elementary school art in the Palm Beach County School District for 25 years. She and her daughter, Christina Barrera, also work privately with students to prepare them for auditions at Bak Middle School of the Arts (http://www.bakmsoa.com) and Dreyfoos School of the Arts (http://www.awdsoa.org).
Christina Barrera, a professional artist, is an Undergraduate Admissions Counselor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (http://www.sva.edu). She spent two years working as a Museum Educator at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland (https://www.thewalters.org).
CH: What kind of programs does the Norton Museum have for young children?
GT: Every Saturday, from 10:30am-12:30pm, the Norton Museum of Art now offers a program called Family Studio http://www.norton.org/familystudio. Children, ages 5-12, and accompanying grown-ups participate in a gallery tour and a related art workshop. Because of demand for the 25 spaces in each week’s class, pre-registration on our website is required www.norton.org, but Museum admission is free to all Palm Beach County residents every Saturday. The expansion of Family Studio and Free Saturdays are made possible thanks to the generosity of Damon and Katherine Mezzacappa.
At particular times throughout the year – especially during the summer months and during school breaks – we offer DIY Art Projects at Art After Dark http://www.norton.org/artafterdark . These programs, on select Thursdays from 6-8 pm are drop-in art projects related to special exhibitions and collection themes. On Thursday nights during the summer we have served over 100 children in these programs! Similar projects with a Chinese theme are offered at our Moon Festival and Chinese New Year Celebrations.
Like Family Studio programs we want DIYs to be an opportunity for children to explore, play, make and learn with their elders who visit the Museum with them, whether they are parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, whomever. We find that the intergenerational activity is a very special part of the process.
For families that visit at other times, we offer ArtCards in English and Spanish that suggest simple looking activities that children and accompanying adults can enjoy together. Prompts can be about finding certain animals in the Chinese art galleries and learning why they are important, or looking across the collections for works that “tell stories,” “look like a dream,” “use warm or cool colors,” or “make you smile.” Simple prompts like these can inspire closer looking and great conversations among family members.
Beyond our family programs, we also serve school and summer camp audiences http://www.norton.org/school-tours or http://www.norton.org/summercamp . These begin with children as young as 5 (kindergarten age). While the majority of school programs are single visits, the Museum hosts Norton School Partnerships that introduce young students to art through multiple visit programs.
Our PACE program http://www.norton.org/pace serves children as young as 5 as well. Through this program we work with community organizations in underserved neighborhoods around Palm Beach County to provide quality arts education to hundreds of children year ‘round.
CH: At what age do you believe that it is appropriate to introduce young people to art?
GT: The sooner the better! Young children delight in discovering new things and art has so much to offer in this regard. Their great capacity for imagination can also spur terrific conversations with just a single question or prompt from an older person. And when parents or caretakers stay engaged with the child’s responses, a really memorable experience can take shape. The validation and encouragement of an older person can turn a single Museum visit into a lifelong interest.
CH: How do you approach the introduction to art? Example: through gallery shows and explanations or through hands on projects?
GT: Both of these avenues can be exciting and creative. Through tours we strive to make the experience an interactive one (for all ages) so rather than having staff and docents “explain” the art on view, the children discover the works, describe what they see and what they think about what they see. These age-appropriate conversations about artworks are much more fulfilling and impactful than just passive listening. Our talented Museum docents guide the conversation and add important information about the work or artist as appropriate to the goals of the lesson and the students’ age and interest.
CH: Are there basic principles to which beginners should always be introduced as a first exposure or lesson? Or do you work with exhibits that are available in the galleries?
GT: There are so many points of entry into art. One of the ways that we like to work is by developing literacy skills and critical thinking skills. Exploring the elements of art (line, color, shape/form, space, texture) is a good way to help develop a vocabulary for looking at art (and everything else, by the way!). Then, by discussing how the elements of art work together to create composition, for example, you exercise a child’s critical thinking skills. Take it one level further, by looking at a second artwork, and comparing the second to the first… learning can happen in such meaningful ways through this kind of process. And we can use a wide variety of artworks for these lessons, so we do use special exhibitions and the collection.
Caren Hackman is a graphic designer and fine artist living in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. and author of a book about Graphic Design and Good Business practice: http://www.carenhackman.com/book/. Be sure to check out Caren’s wonderful artwork – Caren is a talented artist in her own right! She is a founding member of the Artists of Palm Beach County.