This past week I had a chance to go to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City for the first time. My son was snoozing in his stroller so I really got to take things at my own pace and see what I wanted to in the museum. Ask any parent, this is a real treat!
As I wound my way through the rooms of priceless art I found myself getting giddy at seeing these familiar paintings in “real life.” I came around a corner and there was Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” just hanging on a wall (surrounded by people snapping pictures…but no matter). In another gallery one of Monet’s water lily paintings stretched across the length of the room. I was by myself but I kept wanting to turn to someone and say “Did you see this? Can you believe it is right here?”
I think that this is one of the hardest things to describe about museums and also something that people who like going to them feel instinctively. You get to be there with the “real thing” whether it is a Picasso, the Hope Diamond or a historic house that dates back to Colonial times. It doesn’t matter if you are art history person, love pop culture or consider yourself a history buff there is something about the tangible objects that makes visiting a museum one of a kind.
Just after getting back I read an article in the Washington Post called “On the prowl for memories, museumgoers resort to snapshots” I didn’t take any pictures at MOMA, but I definitely understand the urge to. I wanted to be able to show someone at home, “SEE! I REALLY SAW IT!”
The other thing I was surprised at during my visit to MOMA is how much I knew about what I was seeing. I am not an art history major, I don’t feel comfortable with concepts of modern and contemporary art or consider myself any kind of expert. Despite that, as I walked into a room I was able to say to myself “Oh, I think that is a Mondrian” and when I got closer…I found I was right. I realized this surprising amount of knowledge had come solely from my time teaching preschool and visiting with my son.
In our preschool classroom we would incorporate a lot of art prints (free online, from calendars or purchased at museum gift shops) and also read books that featured artists and their works. I’ve kept up these habits now that I am a Mom. One of my son’s favorite books is called “Dancing with Degas” and is a very simple story with Degas prints as illustrations and I let him play with postcards and laminated prints that I’ve picked up from various museums.
Knowing what I was seeing when I went to the museum made me feel so much more comfortable in the space. I still couldn’t tell you WHY they were important, but at least they felt like familiar friends. If it was that powerful for me as an adult, imagine how that could change things for a reluctant kid visitor. The best part was, I didn’t do anything radically different, I just chose books that related and made them part of our day. I had always planned to do that before trips for my son when he was older, but I hadn’t thought to do it for myself!