Taking baby to the Museum

This blog is a new project, intended as a space where unformed ideas might find their first articulation. Over the 2014 Fall semester I am going to attempt to record a daily thought: just something small that is interesting or troubling me. I welcome your feedback, and hopefully some of these posts can spark further thoughts, debate or critical exchange.

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Discussing Carl Andre’s Equivalent V 1966-69, Museum of Modern Art, New York

As it is Friday, I thought I would post something a little bit lighter. In one of my earlier posts this week, I mentioned that museums are a guilty pleasure of mine. One side effect, is that my son Gabriel has found himself pushed around quite a few institutions.  In his short 14 months on the planet, he has been to the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth, Toledo Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met, MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Brooklyn Museum (just to name a few). It has been really gratifying to see Gabe become so comfortable with the museum environment, pointing excitedly to things he recognizes, clapping and smiling to video installations, or peering curiously at things he finds of interest.

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Gabriel (center) enjoying James Turrell’s Aten Reign 2013, Guggenheim Museum, New York

Clearly I am not the only parent who likes the idea of taking their children to museums (indeed, as the modern museum was founded on the idea of public enlightenment and self-improvement, it seems an inevitable result). I am not sure whether art museums can help stimulate cognitive development or produce more enlightened young citizens, but I do know that in my life the arts have always given me great pleasure. More than anything I would like to share that with my son; to inculcate the value of imaginative and poetic pursuits, so that he too can glimpse the myriad ways of seeing the world around us.

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Examining El Anatsui’s Bleeding Takari II 2007, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Most major museums now cater to children in some way or another. MoMA and the Chicago Art Institute both have terrific children’s areas. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has fantastic programs for slightly older kids, and thanks to Daniel Baumann, the Carnegie Museum now has a wonderfully retro Lozziwurm. The Toledo Museum of Art not only has a family center, but also offers “baby tours.” Many museums offer “stroller tours” – but more often than not, these are pitched equally at the parents as the toddlers (a bit like the moms and bubs sessions offered at cinemas). Toledo’s program differs, in that it was designed by Dr. Kathy Danko-McGhee, an expert in early child development. Designed for children from 2-18 months, these tours have a duel purpose: to stimulate cognitive development in young children, and to teach parents and caregivers how to engage babies’ with art, which in turn promotes brain growth and literacy skills. Sensibly, the tours are limited to half-an-hour, to accommodate for babies’ short attention span.  I am yet to take Gabriel on one of these tours, but am hoping we can get to one in the next few months.

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Crikey it’s big! Checking out Alexander Calder’s Flamingo 1973, Federal Plaza, Chicago.

As it is Friday, and the end of the first week of my daily blogging exercise, I wanted to throw open the floor to you. What are your thoughts about taking baby to the museum? Do you think there is value in taking small children to museums? Have you had any great experiences, or shocking disasters? Is there a museum you particularly love, or a program that you think warrants commendation? Alternatively, do you think children should be left at home; that museums should be a quiet place for adult contemplation? I really look forward to hearing your thoughts, comments, stories… Till then, see you next week.

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I think I’m ready to go Dad! With Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, 1887, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Taking baby to the Museum

  1. Stephanie Holt

    Hi Henry
    Things have probably changed, but we have strong memories of taking our then 5-year-old Lydia to New York museums 16 years ago. MoMA gave us a self-guided kiddie tour, that was basically a worksheet directing kids to find the clown, find the monkey etc. Diverting enough, but hardly stimulating on its own. Then we took her to a children’s session at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The theme was ‘texture’, and watching a group of enchanted children discuss an Yves Klein at length (before going into the studio and making their own texture works) was a revelation. A museum is not just an awkwardly negotiated picture book for distracted toddlers after all! Kids are more open, more curious, and more imaginative than their grown ups. So the challenge is to make that the starting point. Which is a nice segue to the following, which I’m sure you’ve seen Henry, but always worth a revisit!

    PS love the blogging!

  2. Rebecca Skinner

    Perfect time to go exploring museums with your son. In approximately 2-3 years outcomes will be more difficult to predict as he will be less likely to absorb the exhibits in favor of exploring the space through the medium of contemporary dance and/or junior athletics.

  3. It’s getting harder and harder to hold the attention of a three-year-old, and our latest venture was a quick jaunt through the galleries, but I have a wonderful video of an almost-two-year-old Henry spinning around in one of the 20th-century galleries pointing at works and saying “what’s that? what’s THAT?” Yes, he was loud, and my first instinct was to grab him and quiet him, but then we saw the smiles he generated from the other visitors, and thought how lovely his enthusiasm and genuine joy was. We’ll do it all again with Emmett! (Museum galleries are generally too quiet; I wish there was more discussion, less isolation.)

  4. Thank you so much Stephanie, Rebecca and Julia for your wonderful replies! I suspect we are in the brief golden window while Gabriel is still relatively compliant, but nevertheless engaged. Steph raises a good point though – MoMA has clearly put a lot of energy into their children’s programs, but I wonder how successful they are. They are mostly directed at slightly older children, and I saw several children enjoying worksheets of the kind you described…

    But my suspicion is that a museum as busy as MoMA is never going to be able to offer the kind of stimulating environment or creative programs that institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, Toledo Art Museum or the National Gallery of Victoria can present.

    On a totally different level, I think the Brooklyn Museum should also be applauded for having some of the best family change rooms (read: toilets) that I have ever encountered! Great benches, child seats, sanitary wipes etc: which doesn’t sound like much, but compared to the abysmal facilities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it really helps make the whole experience much happier for everyone!

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