This post is written by Sarah Ann Noel.
When I was 21 and studying abroad in London, I visited the Tate Modern with a new friend for my first venture into modern art. Not having been exposed to much art at all, I was particularly interested in the stories behind each of the pieces, so I rented one of those ridiculous headsets, because these are the kinds of things you can do when you’re a student in a foreign country and on months-long tourist status.
At the time, The Tate boasted a huge wing of Jackson Pollock originals, an artist I’d never heard of despite his fame and innovation. The electronic guide seemed to come to life when I entered his code, playing peppy jazz music behind the storyteller’s deep voice, describing Pollock’s methods of dancing around his paintings, splashing paint with interesting tools. I think this was the first time I was ever transformed by art, standing in front of “Summertime,” incapable to prevent my body from swaying to Pollock’s movements in my mind’s eye.
I’ve since learned that this was a rather elementary experience, not that I care. Art is about tastes, and that moment was an unforgettable one. But if I was going to be moved by a knowledge of art, I had a lot of catching up to do.
One of my favorite things about being a mother is watching the world unfold before my girls’ eyes. It’s a privilege and joy to offer up to your children what has been so personally special. I wholeheartedly believe that early exposure to arts and sciences and language has everything to with how my children will learn; and I absolutely refuse to believe that they’re too young to appreciate these sorts of things. In fact, I think, in some ways, kids are more able to find the beauty, wonder, and meaning in art and literature than we are.
Currently, we’re staying with my parents on their rugged acreage in Golden, Colorado. We’re literally up on a mountaintop, with not much but nature nearby. We’ve had wonderful adventures underneath trees and climbing rocks; but I don’t want my girls to disconnect from the culture I was able to expose them to in New York. I was so happy to discover Art with Mati and Dada on YouTube the other day, and in particular, the Jackson Pollock episode. I felt an idea coming together and hoped to give my daughters’ their own “Summertime” moment.
The Art with Mati and Dada videos are brief, bouncy, and full of color and magic. (And, okay, they maybe walk the “cheese factor” line, but that will happen with kid stuff.) Regardless, my girls loved the video, and it helped enforce the idea of who Jackson Pollock was and what he did in the world of art.
After the video, I sent my girls into the backyard wilderness (but a park or even a sidewalk would do just as well), and they collected their “tools.” We found tall grasses, sticks, rocks, weeds, flowers, pinecones, and leaves. I also scooped up a few things from inside the house—QTips, cotton balls, paintbrushes, and basters—along with our paints and some containers of water and food coloring. We stationed ourselves on the ground, secured “canvases” (simple computer paper) with rocks at each corner, turned on some music and began dancing around and experimenting with all of our mediums.
The experience was not lost on my girls, even though they are only three and five. They now use the name “Jackson Pollock” in everyday discussions and observances. And it has also opened up a new pathway into conversations about art. We visited the Denver Art Museum the next week, and I was amazing at how they were drawn to the more modern works full of obscure shapes and splashes of color.
I have had a friend do a similar artist study of Eric Carle with her daughters and students, studying all of his books and experimenting with collage. I’m excited to explore the other Art with Mati and Dada videos, as well as other methods for infusing these years of my girls’ childhood with learning through art.