Masterworks’ Jasmine Lee explores the unique way children interpret art and offers tips for an enriching museum experience.

Despite the saying, silence is not always golden. In fact, the idea of silence is perhaps one reason we’re here: demystifying the idea that art museums are a sacred and silent place, often considered “out of reach” for children and families. While art museums are, by definition, cultural conservators, they are also sites for curiosity and creativity. The key is to be open-minded. This is where children become one of the most valuable resources. They have an unabashed curiosity and a quest to know more without any concern that their naïveté might prove them less cultured. And when it comes to artwork, this is the best mindset to have. There is always context, but art is about interpretation at its core. The artwork may, or may not, make sense to you, but that’s the beauty of it. And children flourish in their acceptance of this. Here are just a few ways to enjoy an art gallery with kids.

Let your children lead
A good starting point is to walk through the form of a painting. Consider what you can recognise: what you see, the forms, colours, textures, the scale of a work. But then start to consider how it makes you feel, imagine why an artist made it, how they made it. Let your children spin up stories and join them in the process. There are never too many questions, and you don’t have to have all the answers. There are typically labels, handouts and wall text that all provide context. Use them, but have fun with it.

Don’t rush
Let everyone have a moment to let their mind wander. What may start out as a simply rendered image can become an experience of joy, of sadness, of confusion. Sometimes walking away with stories or questions is more enjoyable than deducing an explanation. Perhaps encourage children to focus on one or two paintings instead of “conquering” the exhibition and seeing everything. You can always come back.

Get creative
Many museums and galleries have specialised content for younger viewers, and these can be useful tools to help guide children through an exhibition. When they don’t, get creative. Let your children take a picture of the work they like the most or take a picture of them expressing how the work made them feel, or posed, like a sculpture. Interview them—get them to tell you in their own words about a work they encountered and let them craft a story about it. If and where allowed, let them draw a work they see, or challenge them to draw something similar. Think outside the box. Understanding is not predicated on determining why a work was made.
When their curiosity is supported, children can learn more about themselves and other perspectives. As adults, we are reminded of the value of child-like inquisition and embracing creativity. Museums, galleries and archives all preserve our culture so that we can truly know it. So that our past is not lost to the present, or to our future. And if our future is our children, then we must let them know it. They must know they are welcome, and they have to be brought inside.

Jasmine Lee, Museum & Gallery Exhibitions Officer at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art