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Guyon: Looking At Art

12/13/10 5:55PM By Annie Guyon
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(HOST)  Writer and commentator Annie Guyon is, first and foremost, a mom. But worlds collided recently when she accompanied her son's middle school class on a field trip to a modern art exhibit.

(GUYON) As someone who's been writing about art my entire adult life, it's a given that my kids' memories of gallery openings and museum exhibits have become one long, colorful blur at this point.  And not all of it has been painless.  

I have a photo of the two of them, ages two and four, standing in front of Warhol's giant Campbell's Soup canvas at the National Gallery in D.C.  The youngest is in tears, a stern pout fixed on her tiny, red face as her brother, a protective arm around his little sister, stares into the camera with a pleading look, as if to say "Please stop making us look at so much art, Mommy!"

Though both have always been avid artists themselves, the idea of simply looking at art isn't always so appealing for kids.  I do my best to make it fun, telling them about the artists or asking why they like certain pieces more than others but I think sometimes just the fact that a parent instigated the trip can make them skeptical.

Thankfully, there are other people who get my kids engaged in art exhibits in a way I simply cannot.  Namely, art teachers.  A couple of years ago, Mary Lou Massucco, my son's 6th-grade art teacher at the Bellows Falls Middle School, arranged a field trip to the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, where the class saw an exhibit of work by Lisa Hoke. Her sculptures were made entirely of plastic cups that she'd painted in vibrant colors and arranged in complex patterns on the walls.  As students entered the room, I heard exclamations of "Sweet!", "Dude, check this out!", "Awesome, it looks like an explosion!" and "No it's a skyscraper that fell down!" During a discussion conducted by the docent, I heard everything from, "She makes it fun to learn the way colors go together" to "I think she's telling us how to use old cups."  It was a great to hear them get so involved in the work.

After the talk the kids were given big sheets of paper and markers and let loose to go sketch their favorite pieces. Every student was instantly absorbed in the task and, knowing that some had never been to a museum before made the experience that much more impressive to me, both as a parent and an art writer.

I think enforced art-viewing is a good thing and my hat is off to teachers out there who make it happen, both budget and logistics-wise, as well as art organizations that offer educational outreach programs to our public schools.  An experience like that can change a kid's life, even if he or she never sets foot in another museum again.

A case in point is what a former student of Mrs. Massucco recently told her. She said it was art class field trips to Dartmouth's Hood museum that had lifted her self-esteem enough to inspire her to go to college. She didn't major in art but somehow all those discussions about art made her believe in herself in a way nothing else could.

It may sound cliché, but art really does change lives - and causes only occasional pouting.
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