Learning to See

by Stefani on 1-February-2010

Museum Visit

We visited the city last week. It had been so long since we roamed the art museum, that I thought it was time to take these country boys to town! (For they ARE being raised as country boys really, despite all evidence to the contrary – namely their suburban home.)

Anyway, on this visit, each boy had a clipboard and a goal… But wait, let me back up…

We recently read in, I think it was Usborne’s Introduction to Art, that there are a handful of main artistic genres. This was a revelation, that a thing so big and varied as “art” could be categorized. Something nebulous began to take shape in their minds – the idea that art is more than just a collection of pretty things, it has purpose and meaning.

We spent a good while paging through our small stack of Mike Vanezia’s Meet the Great Artist books and tried to categorize our favorite works. We noticed that certain artists have strong inclinations toward one or two genres. We did the same with a set of Child Sized Masterpieces. This became a game… every time we saw a painting or drawing someone would shout, “Still Life!” or “The Genre Genre!” trying to beat his brothers to the punch.

So cleary, it was time to revisit the museum. It’s the same one that we’ve visited before, but armed with new knowledge I felt it was sure to be a fresh experience. With clipboards in hand then, my guys set out to take a sort of census. (There’s a great deal of census taking going on here these days). It was their mission to collect data about the number of holdings in our museum that belong to each genre. At first, there was a lot of giddy shouting, “Ooh Ooh! That one’s a portrait!” and furious making of tally marks.

It was a great plan, but before long the tallying gave way to just being in the moment.

There was heated debate over what is and is not art. (And some whispered words about how it was not especially polite to loudly voice your opinion on this matter while other museum goers were nearby, quietly coming to their own conclusions about said piece.)

There were declarations of “this one is my absolute favorite!” and then, “no THIS one is my favorite!”

There were nervous guards having palpitations over statements like, “Wow, look at the globby, curly paint on this one! Doesn’t it make you just want to rub your hands all over it?” and “That sculpture looks like it would be SO good for climbing!”

Art Up Close

And my favorite part – moments when the creative energy just spilled over and they had to sit, or even lay, right away, to sketch out something that they particularly liked. Ryder sketched the EXIT sign. He thought it was neat and that he might want to remember how to spell that one day. 🙂
Drawing at the Museum

Interactive Art

There were many, many questions – so many that MY clipboard was used for keeping track of them.

“How come these paintings look kind of the same, if two different people made them?” (About the two nearest ones, pictured above – terribly astute question, I thought.)

“Why is that art when I could paint it?” and just as often, “How did he make it looks so real? I could never do that!” (How interesting it is that we seemed to be hardwired to assess art this way – by deciding wether or not we feel that we could have done it ourselves.)

What on earth is THAT supposed to mean?”

“How come all the ‘new art’ doesn’t fit into the genres very well?”

“Why is it bad to use flash cameras or touch stuff?”

“Are the bones real?”… and on and on.

Mama even had some questions for them… and it totally blew their minds… “Is the Exit sign art? Well, how about Ryder’s drawing of the exit sign then, is that art? What if I take a particularly good photo of the exit sign? Would THAT be art? How about if a famous artist recreated an exact replica? ” They are still thinking on their answers to these questions, which is okay because I am too. I’m going to let them ponder on it all a while before I introduce them to Duchamp’s “Fountain”

Are You Sure This is Art?

Neat isn’t it, how museums are like the best kinds of books – the kind that you read several times at different stages in your life, and with each reading it touches you in a new way?

The city does have its charms.

Molly Hyde-Caroom February 1, 2010 at 3:34 am

Once again, I love everything on your blog. Is this museum in Austin? It looks perfect and wonderful! We will be in TX in the spring and I was wondering if you would share where this is? Thanks again. I just got my Book of Days, so fun to read and we already own a lot of those books!

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

Yay! I hope that you guys have lots of fun with the Book of Days!
We were visiting the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus. I know there are a couple of other art museums but we’ve never been to them. There are a host of smaller galleries too, and so many other fun things to do in Austin. Stay tuned, I think I’m going to try to compile a list of Austin “Must Dos” soon…

Kay February 4, 2010 at 1:07 am

Oh please do! My husband and I have been living in Austin for over two years now, and have seen NOTHING. It doesn’t help that we live in the extreme north (seriously, I think Round Rock is two streets away). Both of us grew up in the area (me in San Marcos, he in Georgetown), and for both our families traveling to (or even just THROUGH) Austin was a huge trial to be bemoaned and avoided at all costs.

But I see such wonderful pictures of your boys having fun, and read about your wonderful experiences, and I start to wonder if we really live in the same city? Because MY Austin doesn’t seem to look anything like YOUR Austin…

sarah February 1, 2010 at 4:19 am

i was an art major and this thrills me. love their questions and thought processes. good for you to take them. a wonderful experience for all of you!

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:08 am

Oh! I so wish I could go back to college and be an art major… or maybe writing… or maybe history… or maybe biology… Or maybe all of them at once, which in some ways, is kind of like raising and schooling boys 🙂

I’m hoping soon to take them to San Antonio. Years ago I saw a Monet there, and the size and texture of it was astonishing to me. I’d only ever seen flat, small prints. The real life painting, being able to see the brush strokes and the passion that went into it… life changing.

Jennifer February 1, 2010 at 7:48 am

What a wonderful experience for them, and you too.

Kelly February 1, 2010 at 8:11 am

These are great questions! Wow, the boys look like they had fun.

And can I ask what museum it was? And if you have any other tips on places to go or eat at or see there? We’ll be down in two weeks…

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

I’m working on a list for you, never fear!
I do wish you were coming just a wee bit later though, like about 4 weeks. Texas really shines in the spring.
But we’ll take ya in winter too 🙂

Debi February 1, 2010 at 9:48 am

What a neat experience! I love the questions that were asked… they were good ones. Thanks for sharing your “field trip” with us.

lora February 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm

really neat and special.i love it so much. i’m falling back in love with homeschooling all over again right now, again, and your recent posts have added much to my list of reasons why.

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:14 am

Oh Lora! So true… I always love homeschooling, but I would say that my passion for it sometimes ebbs and flows. At the moment, as we’re beginning to see the first glimpses of spring, it seems like we’re all itching for new discoveries.
Happy learning to you and yours!

Lindsey February 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Gorgeous. Makes me want to drop everything and go for a field day to our city’s museum of Fine Art. Clipboards, fantastic idea! I’m making note of that.

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

I ran across them for $.99 at our grocery store and wondered why it had never occurred to me before how handy they would be. It’s so nice to carry a good stiff drawing/writing surface along with you! I think they’ll be great for notes on our nature walks too.

barbara February 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm

what a fun visit to the museum. so many great questions and delightful art commentary 🙂

Kristine February 1, 2010 at 8:51 pm

I am really enjoying and being inspired by your recent posts – the detail, the photos, the little tips imbedded in them. You all seem so engaged and alive! So what comes next? Are the boys keen to make art at home? Or head back to the chickens? (do you still have chickens?).

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

No, sadly our chickens are gone. We have to make do with a busy little dog 🙂
As for what’s next… goodness, the projects and ideas are ceaseless right now! I think the taste of spring has excited something in us. We’ve been researching and planning for our butterfly and vegetable gardens. We’ve created a “bird watching” station. There’s some new found interest in microscopic life that has mean lots of trips to the pond for water sample collection and research on the computer and in books to identify our finds. My middle man has just joined a band and is working on song writing with the base player and drummer. My oldest has been repairing his butterfly nets, and researching specimen boxes. My youngest has a new interest in taking apart everything in site and then putting it back together in a new way (it’s “sculpture art” mama!). There has been a lot of baking, menu making, and telling mama to move out of the kitchen too. Busy busy busy.
And oh so fun!

Kristine February 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm

opps! p.s. That is a great title – “learning to see”. That is just what is all about – art – and just what learning in general is, too, isn’t it…

Stefani February 2, 2010 at 9:27 am

Thanks! And you’re so right… it most definitely applies to all learning! I feel like whatever the subject, if we can all learn, together, to look more closely and to really SEE, we’ve really done something extraordinary.

~ Beauty and Joy ~ February 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Oh! I love this! I grew up right next to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and the guards used to let us in on our school lunch break to sit in the museum and look at the art. I had no idea at the time what I was being given! Your post brings it all back for me.

Stefani February 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

wow! What an amazing thing to have a view like that for lunch breaks!

allison February 4, 2010 at 3:30 pm

i always love your posts, but i agree with the crew here…the last few have been so inspiring. i was blown away by the detailed nature journals and now this! art is something so special and subjective. you are doing your kids such a service to teach them how to openly question, admire, and enjoy it at a young age. very inspiring! thank you so much for sharing.

Stefani February 4, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Well thank you, Allison! You know I hope that with art, and with their nature studies and really just about all our learning adventures, that they learning to look more closely and ask more questions. I don’t expect that they’ll remember every name of every flower, or be able to name the composer after having heard just a few notes, or remember in what year Monet painted his Water Lillies… I just hope that they are learning to really LOOK, no matter what the subject. Funny thing is, I feel like my own eyes are being opened right along with them. It’s really so much fun to get to “do school” all over again 🙂

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