I am still learning how to look at art. On our recent visit to the exhibition “Making Africa,” my children and I sat down in front of the art. We slowed down and made ourselves comfortable. It makes sense that a museum is a good place to take your time and give yourself space to think, but I rarely do that. And based on how quickly everyone else in the museum moved through, I’d say I’m not the only one that keeps a steady pace through an art exhibition.
“Making Africa” is a contemporary design exhibition curated by the Vitra Design Museum and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It toured Europe in 2015 and opened in the USA at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It is currently up in Albuquerque and will go to Austin in the fall. The primary reason I took my children is to reflect on how we think about Africa. And I was curious what a short list of creative future-makers from the other side of the world looks like. My children have never been to Africa, but they have ideas about what life is like there (as we all do). I was hoping this exhibition would shake that up a bit.
There are over 135 objects in “Making Africa” and we spent over an hour in the exhibition. As soon as we walked into the exhibition, I asked them to sit down, so that I could get my bearings. We sat in front of the second one to give the guard a break from following us around. We sat in front of the third one because their legs were tired. Then we found an artwork by one of my favorite artists, so we sat down. I have an unspoken rule with myself that if my children are sitting in my lap looking at art with me, then I don’t move until they do. Thus we ended up in front of four artworks for over 10 minutes each. That’s definitely longer than all the adults passing us looked at it.
Each time we sat down together, we relaxed, focused, and talked. Talking with your children about art is basically the same as talking to them about anything. If every idea your preschooler shares ends with a sound effect, then so should your conversation about art. In our floor conversations, you are most likely to hear me say, “What would a ninja think about this artwork?” or “Did the artist make it using any “walla”? Basically, you talk to them about art the same way you talk to them about any mystery or new idea that you are trying to figure out. It starts with, “What do you see?”
In many ways it is “easier” to go to a museum without children. Figuring out how to talk to them about things that I already see can distract me from seeing new things. However, my children push me to do things differently, like get comfortable on the floor of a museum, so comfortable that you stay long enough to figure out why it matters. I cannot wait to tell you about the four artworks we looked at! That post is coming next.