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The Arts and Books on Vacation, Part TWO: Visual Art

Set brushes on painted background.For the introduction to this series, see the first post.

I can just about hear the groans and see the rolled eyes when the suggestion is made to spend some vacation time in an art gallery — but I can assure the groaners and the eye-rollers that this experience is going to be cool. Really.

From personal experience, I would urge people to encourage the natural interest in art, drawing, sculpting (yes, making things from mud, play-dough, and clay counts as sculpting!) that is inherent in children.

Then for our art vacation stops, we’re going to start off with sculpture, and not just sculptures sitting in an art gallery, but sculptures out of doors, in what is variously called a Sculpture Garden or a Sculpture Park. It’s the next best thing to having sculptures in your own backyard (how cool would that be?) Sculpture gardens are also an excellent way for blind or sight-impaired children to enjoy art.

Most sculpture gardens are geared toward adult appreciators of art, of course, but many have kid-friendly opportunities as well. Socrates Sculpture Park in New York City is one such place. Not only are there sculptures to see and learn about, but there are numerous programs for kids, including throughout the summer, that will intrigue even the most art-phobic in the family.

There is a sculpture garden in Minneapolis that is specifically for kids and looks like a great place to play as well as to learn about art. After reading the article I’ve linked to, be sure to go to the Garden’s website itself (the link in the article no longer works).

Now let’s go into a few art galleries, shall we? Come on, kids, this is going to be fun! I promise! Most galleries these days have a children’s program of some sort, and some galleries are geared toward children completely. Without going farther afield than the nearest city, one can find art experiences to engage the youngest child to the most jaded teenager.

In this post I’m only able to highlight a few, but there is a huge palette of possibilities out there to dip your brush into. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has what looks like a fantastic kids program.

A swift trip across the continent takes us to the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, and their programs for kids. Again, great stuff!

The opportunities certainly aren’t limited to the United States, I hasten to add. There’s a museum for kids in Niagara Falls, Ontario, which, if it lives up to its website, would be a fantastic place to visit as a family — check out the Niagara Children’s Museum, but do try to remember to come back to my blog later.

If you’re visiting London, England, what more famous gallery can you find than the Tate? (Well, okay, there are others …) They, too, have an active kids’ program that would be well worthwhile. With that website, I have to remind myself to come back to my blog.

I hope by now that the groaners and the eye-rollers in the family have been persuaded to give galleries and sculpture gardens a chance. They can be a true source of delight, wonder, and inspiration on an Arts-based vacation, or at any time.

Artistic riches abound when one goes looking for books that deal with the visual arts. As well as books giving directions for every arts and crafts possibility imaginable, there are many that introduce young readers to art itself, and it is these that I will be exploring with you today.

Two of my favorite art-related picture books are by the wonderful Peter H. Reynolds. There are many children who have already had some of their Inner Artist squelched out of them. Peter’s The Dot and Ish are designed to counteract that. Realizing that things don’t have to be perfect, but just “ish” is a message for all of us to loosen up and enjoy things, ishily.

To get a better idea of what art could be like for blind kids, check out The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin with illustrations by Rosana Faria. The sparse text (printed at the lower edge of each left-hand page) is paired with modified braille text above it. The facing page has an illustration, but the pages are all in black, and the illustrations are black as well, and are raised so that the reader can feel the pictures.

A book that will give older kids a taste of how important art can be is Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. This book follows the story of Doug Swieteck, seen by the people in his new town as “a skinny thug.” As the first few chapters unfold, we gradually realize that there are challenges in Doug’s life that he reacts to belligerently, earning him this title.

The breakthrough in this case comes when a librarian discovers Doug’s interest in art and particularly the art of John James Audubon. Doug begins learning to draw under the librarian’s tutelage, which leads to many other learnings, which all help Doug discover who he is, and how to function in the world he finds himself in. I highly recommend this book.

And finally, a series that mixes art with excitement, suspense, action, and geography, the fantastic Silver Jaguar Series of mysteries by Kate Messner: Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, and Manhunt. Just mentioning them makes me want to read them again, and get caught up in the adventures of Henry, Anna and Jose, as they race to solve mysterious art thefts and strange occurrences.

All of us could do with a chance to awaken our Inner Artist, so read a few books, get out the markers and paper and paints, and have a delightfully Ish-ish vacation!

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