Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Just Kids’ Stuff

Cover image, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When you become a parent, your entire world changes. As your child grows, you try to bring that entire world to them in all its color and beauty. For anyone who loves art and wants their child to love it, too, Maria K. Shoemaker and Katy Friedland’s A Is for Art Museum (above) is a good place to start. Using the entire width and breadth of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Shoemaker, the PMA’s Senior Curator of Education, and Friedland, Manager of Family and Children’s Programs at the PMA, use every children’s educational trick in the book in this book to make the journey through the alphabet a treat for the ear and the eye as well as for the imagination, planting the seeds so that parents can nurture the budding art lover deep inside every kid. “Here is a building filled with art. What will you find inside?” the first page reads, with the majestic classical columns of the PMA sitting atop the Rocky Steps drawing the young reader in for closer inspection. With such a great start, the fun (and learning) is just beginning.

The Kiss (Constantin Brancusi, French, born Romania, 1876-1957). Limestone, 23 x 13 ¼ x 10 inches, 1916. Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arsenberg Collection, 1950.

Like any good children’s book, A Is for Art Museum will keep adults interested, too, wondering what will happen next. “D is for Dancer” brings us to the Edgar Degas’ statue of the Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. I can just imagine the feeling of a child, perhaps a little girl taking her first dance class, connecting with this image and later even going to see the sculpture itself at the museum—a friend waiting for her all this time. “E is for Eyes” presents the museum’s collection of miniature paintings of eyes, one of the wonderfully strange slices of the past hidden in plain sight in one of the museum’s lesser travelled rooms. “K is for Kiss,” featuring Constantin Brancusi’s The Kiss (above) calls on youngsters to stretch their minds to see the two figures smooching. When “N is for Neck” rolls around, the authors ask the young reader to try physically stretching his or her neck just like the woman in a painting by Amedeo Modigliani does. Labels such as classical, Impressionist, modern, or even foreign have no place in this alphabetical tour of cultures and styles, opening up the child’s imagination to a literally boundless world.

Three Musicians (Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Spanish, 1881-1973). Oil on canvas, 80 ½ x 74 1/8 inches, 1921. Philadelphia Museum of Art: A.E. Gallatin Collection, 1952.

The first time I flipped through A Is for Art Museum, I did so with my 2-year-old Alex in my lap. He knows all his letters, not necessarily all in order, so he was able to concentrate on the visuals of the book. (The inclusion of uppercase and lowercase letters—not always a given in alphabet books—shows that the educators knew what they were doing.) When I came to “M is for Musicians,” for which the authors made the remarkable choice of Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians (above), I asked Alex if he could see the instruments. Finding anything in Picasso’s Cubist jumble challenges most adults, but Alex didn’t “know enough” not to try. After a few valiant guesses, Alex looked up at me and I showed him where they were. The look of discovery in his eye alone was worth the price of the book. It said, “Of course, there they were all along.” Not every work in the book is as challenging as Picasso’s, but the diversity of the works will keep the inquisitive child coming back again and again to find new things they didn’t see before. I can easily imagine A Is for Art Museum serving as the beginning of an art scavenger hunt through the PMA with kids giggling in the galleries as they come face to face with their new “old” friends.

The Orchard Window (Daniel Garber, American, 1880-1958). Oil on canvas, 56 7/16 x 52 ¼ inches, 1918. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Centennial gift of the family of Daniel Garber, 1976.

I can’t imagine any better advertisement or marketing tool to the four-and-under set than A Is for Art Museum. The heavy hitters in the Philadelphia lineup, such as Picasso’s Three Musicians and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are here, but quieter gems such as an ornate German helmet from the armor collection and a Qing Dynasty dog cage. The choice of works such as Daniel Garber’s The Orchard Window (above) lends a distinctly Philadelphian flavor to the book, too. Proceeds from the launch party for A Is for Art Museum will go towards providing free copies to local libraries, Head Start programs, and community centers, adding to the aura of good feelings surrounding this book. Even if you’re not from Philadelphia, A Is for Art Museum will pull you and your child into the circle of readers and art lovers and never let you go.

[Many thanks to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for providing me with a review copy of Maria K. Shoemaker and Katy Friedland’s A Is for Art Museum and for the images above.]


Anonymous said...

It's a good thing to teach children about art. Children are very intuitive and they actually see things other people don't. At first.

Anonymous said...

this blog is very interesting and educational and at the same time very entertaining!
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