How to Talk About Paintings with Children
From the perspective of knowledge, children in this information age can easily and quickly learn all kinds of knowledge from computers and a variety of other media. Because of this, they can express themselves knowledgeably and smoothly, and seem very smart. But because of the changing pace of urban life, most environments where children grow up have lost quiet's elegance and visual condition and children's observation and thinking abilities are relatively weak. Coupled with a social emphasis on creativity through which children are strongly encouraged to use creative imagination, the result is that few children are able to quietly watch life and things around them. They think they know the answer with only a cursory glance, and even without looking, they still believe they have the answer. Everything is out of their imaginations and it is easy for them to form conceptual or disorganized thinking. Not knowing how to observe, of course, cannot further in-depth observation, thinking, or analysis of their own thoughts; this is a common problem facing an entire generation of children.
Art is a great form of media that lets people develop a better thought process because the art requires thinking. Art must be carefully and thoroughly pondered, to find its meaning and what it is intended to express. Therefore, we must first understand that “seeing” must be done through meticulous observation. We must think it over for more time, but must also develop a more committed attitude and method, in order to organize our own thoughts. So enjoy works of art with children, and through appreciation, understand what a development of "seeing smarter" as the goal. Accompanying the children in talking about paintings cannot just be about talking; looking is the first step and thinking is the purpose while talking is only the means of expression.
We will use Figure 1, “Maids of Honor” by the great 17th century Spanish artist Diego Velazquez as an example. In the beginning only guide viewing, giving no indication of the informational background, just allow observation.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva Velázquez (1599-1660)
Las Meninas (Ladies-in-Waiting or Maids of Honor), 1656
Oil on Canvas, 318 x 276 cm
Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), Madrid
Use the following suggestions to facilitate discussion:
1. Overall observation: Use a different perspective
2. Observe details carefully: Take note of the small things
3. Pay attention to the link between the title and the work
4. Notice the expression of feelings
5. Guide children to supplement incomplete information
6. Try to find any potential different viewpoints
The next step is to highlight understanding artwork, but if you can provide other related paintings, you can help children develop a more comprehensive view of the work of art, rather than see it as a monotonous concept. So Figure 2 is Picasso's own redrawing of the previous artist’s piece. Picasso did many such redrawings of and inspiration pieces based on Velazquez’s Las Meninas (44 of them!), and all can provide observation comparison data.
There are many hidden and minute details in this painting and it is worth noticing the taste carefully, because through every careful and close look, it is possible to have a new understanding of each detail. In Velazquez’s depiction of the princess, the King and Queen behind her, the dog in front of her, and the attendants and maid beside her, the expressions and movements they exhibit are incredibly detailed. Through keen observation, this great painter was able to capture a scene of royal life in the imperial palace in the 17th century, and through his exquisite ability of depiction, conveys it all to us across time and space.
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)
Maids of Honor, 1957
Oil on Canvas, 194 x 260 cm
Picasso Art Museum, Barcelona
Before 1819, this famous painting was known as "Family Portrait". It was only in 1819 that its title became known as “Maids of Honor”.
In this painting of a royal family, little Princess Margarita Teresa is located in the middle of the painting. Velazquez depicts himself painting the portrait, along with a maid, on the left side of the painting, and all other people on the right. There is a small door on the innermost wall of the hall, and the attendant is going up steps visible through the doorway. The mirror to the left of the doorway, reveals the upper halves of the King and Queen, who are standing just outside the frame, on the other side of the room. Velazquez places the subjects in a very high-ceilinged hall (people are less than one-half the height of the ceiling), and the side wall is fitted with a row of large glass windows, through the first and last of which light shines through.
In order to observe and talk about paintings, we should choose artists’ famous works, the contents of which should be based on children's age and life experience, from simple to complex. In addition, the cultivation of a correct attitude is very important; the basic attitude must be able to have keen and delicate observation, thorough thinking, and open-mindedness, and must be flexible to changing ideas. A good attitude can be result in fruitful education, so early conversations with young children about paintings must follow this goal.
This article was published in the May 2005 issue of National Children's Paradise Magazine