Today's program has a simple and wholesome title: Art and Babies. And the sermon I'm about to deliver has to do with the impact that art can have on the lives of our little angels. Speaking in front of a live audience, I often bring up the issue of the importance of exposing children to art at a very early age. Every young parent knows the benefit of suspending a mobile with bright shiny objects above the crib to activate the child's brain. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that bringing these little angels to museums, even before they are potty-trained, is wonderfully stimulating as well. No need to overwhelm them with history lessons – just let them be...allow them to be affected (on a subconscious level) by the tremendous variety of visual stimuli.
When parents ask me about the appropriate age to start taking their children to museums, my standard response is, "How old are your kids?" And they might say, "Five and eight." At which point I pause for a moment, shake my head, and say, "You're late...To be precise, five and eight years late. Hurry up and take them to a museum tomorrow."
When I spot in a museum young parents with babies, I make a point of complimenting them for doing the right thing. So you can imagine my delight when recently I received an email from a friend of mine who decided to test this art theory on her little niece. Here's a slightly edited version of what she wrote:
I took my 2½ year-old niece to the Getty two weeks ago. I'm trying to take her to museums that are not geared toward children.
In the car on the way there, I explain that we get to ride in a train, and that a museum has art that is made by wonderful artists from all around the world... and you get to see many different types of art. Blah, blah, blah...you get the picture.
Riding in the train, I become a bit panicked. I have a 2½ year-old, taking her to an adult museum. Is there anything that will catch her interest?
So we get off the train and I tell her to start thinking about what kind of things she would like to see.
We walk up to the information booth, and she asks the lady, "DO YOU HAVE PONY ART HERE?"
It was the cutest thing. And to the Getty's credit, the woman in the information booth took her seriously and found four paintings with horses for us to see.
A 2½ year-old's attention span is short. So we went to see the 'appaloosa' painting ("The Piebald Horse" by Paulus Potter) in the East wing, and the Noah's Ark painting ("The Entry of the Animals Into Noah's Ark" by Jan Brueghel the Elder) as well. Then we were tired and had lunch.
But I will say, it is a bit liberating going to a museum only to see a specific type of art...pony art. I normally go to see an exhibition. But this time, anything with a horse would do.
So, at the Getty that day, we rode the train, learned to ask for things at the information booth, saw two pony paintings, had lunch outside, and as we were going back to the train, Elle (that's her name) looked up at me and said, "Auntie, this was a good day at the museum."
Edward, success! If she knows nothing else, she knows that the Getty has two paintings of ponies. A good start in life...
So now you know what my friend Meridee wrote me the other day, and I think that she deserves a big round of applause for a job well done.
Banner image:Taking in the artist’s nostalgic perspective at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Photo: Stewart Cairns for the New York Times