Tuesday 16 July 2019

Pól Ó Conghaile: Six tips for taking kids to galleries and museums

Our Travel Editor shares his tips for taking kids to museums and galleries... and keeping them interested.

Picasso's Guernica, at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.
Picasso's Guernica, at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.
How can you engage children at museums and galleries? Stock Photo: Deposit
Nouvel Edifice in the museum Reina Sofia
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

"It took me a whole lifetime to paint like a child," Picasso once said. But what can children teach adults about art galleries?

On a trip to Madrid recently, I took my nine-year-old son Sam to the Reina Sofía Museum. I wanted to make the visit fun, to avoid a boring schlep, so we chatted about the best approach. I thought I'd teach him, but he ended up teaching me.

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Here's how.

1. Less is more.

The world's greatest paintings are no match for gallery fatigue, so we zeroed in on one: Guernica (above). Picasso's awesome response to the 1937 bombing of a Basque town hangs in Room 206, surrounded by related works. We agreed to limit our visit to this area. Narrowing the focus immediately took the pressure off. It felt like a weight had been lifted.

2. Make it personal.

Why take a nine-year-old to a painting of the Spanish Civil War? Because it's personal. I was stunned when I first saw a copy of Guernica decades ago, seeing in it an astonishing portrayal of brutality and suffering, but also the power of art and imagination to punch back. A copy hangs in my office at home. For me, the visit was a chance to finally see it in the flesh. For Sam, it was a trip to see "the real painting from Dad's office". Other personal links could be a landscape you know, a painting loved by a family member, or an artist they have covered in school.

How can you engage children at museums and galleries? Stock Photo: Deposit

3. Do your homework.

I love dipping into museums and galleries as I travel, but art appreciation can be a hard sell for adults, let alone kids. Minimise frustration by planning ahead. How will you get there? Can you skip queues by buying tickets online? What are the highlights? Involve the kids, asking what they would like to see.

Oh, and is there a good chocolatería or gelateria nearby?

4. Emphasise the original.

We live in a world of copies. A gallery is a chance to say, "This is original; the only one on earth". That's thrilling. At the Reina Sofía, no photos of Guernica are allowed. That nudged us to engage directly with the work.

5. Don't force it.

I tried (and failed) to limit the Dad-splaining. Sam listened to some, but brushed much aside. "It's so big" was his first reaction to the 11' x 26' canvas.

Hunkering down, we talked about the lack of colour, the bull's face (Why did Picasso not erase an earlier outline of an eye?), the big noses, the horse's dagger-like tongue. Looking at it through fresh eyes made me wonder at it all over again.

6. Get hands on.

Galleries are not child-friendly. You can't touch, shout or run - but you can use maps, audio guides, or seek out those with child-friendly tours (Ireland's National Gallery has a family programme, for example).

It's also worth packing notebooks and pens. You may leave with a budding artist on your hands. And finally... quit before it stops being fun.

Read more:

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