Why Kids Like Modern Art

Evergreen Places

Taking a ride at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Taking a ride at the Tang Museum. Image: Kathy Ceceri

We dropped in to our local art museum the other day, and I was reminded of why taking kids to see art – especially contemporary art – is such a serendipitous experience. Just past the coat room is a space that is sometimes used for educational programs and special exhibits. But this time it was dark, and strewn with ladders, sheets, and other signs of not-for-display use.

In the middle of the room was the weirdest bicycle we had ever seen, and the man who made it – Torrance Fish, Senior Preparator at the Tang Teaching Museum & Art Gallery. Mr. Fish explained that he was taking advantage of a hiatus between shows to set up his work, Lifecycle, and make a record of it. Lifecycle is made of steel tubing, bike parts, and electronics. When you sit on it and spin the pedals, a projection on the wall of roads Fish is fond of begins rolling. You can also see little video images of Fish using the Freecycle in what look like rear view mirrors.

The kids climbed aboard and gave it a whirl, while I, all unprepared, snapped pictures with my cell phone. It was incredibly cool.

The Freecycle by artist Torrance Fish

The Lifecycle by artist Torrance Fish

But this kind of thing happens all the time at the Tang. One year, they had an exhibit of sound. One piece consisted of a wall full of file drawers. When you pulled one open, the sound would be released. (The museum usually has a sound exhibit programmed for its elevator, as well.) Another year there was a miniature movie theater. Inside the mini-theater everything was built to scale, which created the illusion that you were in the balcony of a vast cinema. When the usher showed you to your seat and you put on your headphones, you heard what sounded like people rustling around you as you watched the film on the tiny screen. And of course, the year they had the giant rotating bird’s nest, into which chairs and Legos and all kinds of neat things were woven. (I hear the artist came and roosted in the nest for an event, but we missed it.) Admittedly, not everything on display is suitable for kids, but there’s definitely a good chance something will appeal to them.

Why modern art? Personally, I think it’s the King Has No Clothes effect. A work that is meant to have deep meaning a lot of times is actually pretty goofy if taken at face value, the way a child does. And the “my kid could do that” style of so much contemporary work means that kids don’t feel the least bit intimidated. In fact, they might even be inspired to go home and make some modern art of their own.

What’s your kid’s favorite kind of art?

Kathy Ceceri is the author of Around the World Crafts and other hands-on art and activity books.

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