Let me preface this by saying that I am not a parent (and likely will never become one). I’m not an expert in childhood development or early education. What I am is an art historian who believes that it’s really important for kids to learn about art. Art reflects its time of production, and yet is somehow able to transcend time completely. Art History isn’t actually separate from History (with a capital H) Maybe it seems kind of obvious, but when that notion hit me, it hit hard. Art is history, plain and simple. It’s places and people, stories and politics. It doesn’t have to be boring. Get kids passionate about art, and they will become passionate about history.
I am sure education has changed since I was a kid, but I remember being both somehow bored and bewildered by “Social Studies,” even though it was actually my favorite subject. There were massive, massive gaps in my early education. Learning about art and material culture can help fill those gaps, and a little extracurricular Art History education can provide visual substance for kids who need it.
File this under: Museum Stuff and Art School Dropout.
Bear with me a bit, because even though this is a small list, these are all over the place as far as content goes. But, so is art. If you do have children, take cues from them about what their interests are. You probably do a lot of that already. These books are good places to start, but there are hundreds more. I’ve included some general art books as well as a few artist and period specific books that shine a little more brightly in my eyes. I think these are books that a child can enjoy either on her own or with parent involvement. Nota bene: The titles below will take you to Amazon, and are affiliate links. I will receive a commission for any sales made through the use of those links.
13 Art Movements Children Should Know I’ve actually heard great things about this entire series, but I like Movements in particular because it lays out, very simply, that historical context I was babbling about at the start of this post. This one is useful for Art History undergrads, too. Trust me. Take a break from your flash cards.
Can You Find It? and Can You Find It, Too? I Spy meets art. These interactive search-and-find books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art focus on tiny details in famous works. There are a number of titles in this series, but these two are the originals. Ages 5-9.
illus. Deborah Kogan Ray / Mary Azarian
Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain I’m not sure if you knew (you probably do), but Hokusai is one of my favorite of favorites. Lots and lots of Art History education tends to focus on European art, and I get it, but amazing things were happening in Asia, too, long before they “opened” to the West. We’re talking printmaking and mass production, which are definitely of historical importance. Hokusai was doing his thing from about 1786, so the same general era as Neoclassical and Romanticism in Europe. This book not only includes a glimpse into Hokusai’s sketchbook, but is thoughtfully illustrated by the author. Ages 7-12. I want this for me. Deborah Kogan Ray has also written a book about one of my childhood favorites: Wanda Gág, author of (the sweet, but somewhat dark tale) Millions of Cats.
Linnea in Monet’s Garden I read this book in the second grade, and I was obsessed. I checked it out from the library as often as I could. This was my first ever Art History book, published in 1987! It’s a dreamy, sweet little story about a girl discovering Claude Monet. It does a beautiful job of weaving narrative with bits and pieces of Monet’s life. The illustrations reflect Monet’s work in perfectly soft way. Ages 4-8.
Snowflake Bentley This is both a photography and science book! Wilson Bentley spent fifty years of his life perfecting the process of photographing snowflakes with the use of a microscope, and he discovered that no two snowflakes are ever alike. Every elementary school student in Vermont is familiar with his story. His starkly beautiful silver gelatin prints can be seen at the Smithsonian and other museums. This book, illustrated with woodcuts by Vermonter Mary Azarian is another that is near and dear to my heart. Ages 4-7.
The Art Book for Children This is another general knowledge book that has received high praise. The Art Book covers thirty well known artists, both classic and contemporary, and their works. Ages 7+. First in a series.
illus. Hadley Hooper / Anja Klauss
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse This is a beautifully illustrated book about Matisse as a boy. Ages 4-8.
The Little Hippo: A Children’s Book Inspired by Egyptian Art I think every kid goes probably goes through an Egyptology phase. And I think it’s okay to support that interest without stressing out too much about repatriation. That’s an issue that can certainly be addressed later, maybe by chatting with a museum docent. This is a book for younger children, probably ages 4-8. Note that it does deal a little bit with death, as most books on Egyptian art are likely to.
I’d recommend, if you are able, that you check out a museum or its website on your own before bringing your kids. Choose a handful of works (or even just one or two pieces) to visit and talk about with them, anything you think they’ll love. Don’t worry about seeing the whole museum, and don’t necessarily worry about seeing what’s famous, though obviously famous works have their merit. Take your time. Let your kids obsess over something seemingly insignificant. Let them stare at it for ages. Because here’s the thing: there are some works at the MFA Boston that I will visit over and over again, run to every time. There is a bronze drum in the Asian art galleries adorned with tiny frogs. There is Isabella and the Pot of Basil. There is The Fog Warning. There is no rhyme or reason to what I love, and it doesn’t really matter. Nothing is insignificant, so indulge in their obsessions. You let them obsess over cartoon character franchises, so let them obsess over works of art.
If you have any favorite art books of your own, please share them in the comments! It’s good to hear from actual parents.
It never hurts to take a little time to reflect and process.
June is going to be a big month, for me, one that will be (I hope) full of positive change. I recently left my job, which is as much of a relief as it is terrifying. While I feel like the word “toxic” is way overused (ugh), I 100% believe that retail, especially the weird secondhand corner of the retail world my former employer resides in, can be an extremely toxic environment. It certainly took its toll on me. After four and half years, it was time for a change. There were some great days, though, for sure. Treasured objects and people.
I worked hard on my college degree, learning about the things I loved, only to gently push it aside, waiting for “later.” Now that I’m fully dedicated to grad school, I realize that I’ve been missing out. A lot of that comes from insecurity and uncertainty, for sure, because I worry that maybe I waited too long, or that I didn’t look for the right opportunities. There are a lot of what ifs. I’ve never been a big risk-taker. I’m worried that younger, ballsier people will leave me in the dust. They probably will. I don’t know how to do my makeup, and I wear too much black, and I never know what to say, or what to do with my hands when people are talking to me. That being said, I guess I’d rather be trying and failing than just continuing to float semi-miserably along.
The difficult thing now is to transition. I’ve been working retail since undergrad, because it always paid the bills. That’s eight years under my belt in a world I really don’t want to be a part of any longer. So where to go from here?
That remains the question.
I’m cleaning out my desk drawer in preparation for moving. Things are slowly going into boxes. There’s a lot of clutter to get rid of, papers to sift through. I want to start fresh, but there are some things I will always take with me. I really don’t think you can ever just drop everything and go. Maybe some people can.
There is a dress in a box in my closet that I’ve had since I lived in Burlington. I bought it on clearance at Urban Outfitters, my second year at UVM. That knowledge is not special; I know where and when all my clothing has come from. There is nothing spectacular about this dress. Despite not currently being able to fit into it, or even wanting to be able to fit into it (it’s equivalent, I think, to a size 2, like no that is not happening), I haven’t been able to let it go. It doesn’t represent anything in particular, at least nothing I can put a finger on. At that point, I was still trying to figure things out. There is nothing about this dress that I even like. The colors aren’t me, the material makes me sweat, and the cut is not even remotely flattering. I finally managed to move it from a hanger to a donation box a few months ago. I haven’t looked at it since, I do not miss it, and yet for some reason I couldn’t be bothered to get that box of donations out the door.
That box is gone this week. The fact that it’s even occupying any part of my brain is seriously driving me batty.
This full moon means beautiful things are afoot. June is a month that has often left me feeling a little empty. There are memories here that will always be with me. If I can take even some of that sadness and turn it into something new and good, I will consider it a success.
The friends I used to drink cider and howl at the moon with are three hours and a mountain range or two away, but summer makes me think of them.
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Science in Boston for the day. I took the Down-easter into the city, and took advantage of my membership to the New England Museum Association. My purpose was mostly academic (I am writing an exhibit critique for class), but for the majority of my visit, I had the hands-on science exhibits to myself. A little girl shoved me out of her way at one point to learn about dinosaurs in a button-smashy kind of way, but I was cool.
My main goal for the day was to spend some time with Water Stories at MOS. I love, love, love the idea of art and science colliding, and having smart, challenging, beautiful babies. There are so many opportunities to bring these two worlds together (I haven’t told you about the Mütter, yet, aaahh!). As a museum nerd, I’m excited to see it happen “locally.” And, as an occasional artist, I was inspired by Anne Neely’s work. I don’t necessarily want to work in an art museum in the future, but I’d love to be a part of future exhibits like this one! Of course, if an art museum wanted me, you can be assured I would jump on the opportunity, I just see myself being happier at a history or anthropology museum.
By the way, locals, if you haven’t been to the Museum of Science in the last five to ten years, you should go! They’ve refreshed old exhibits, and added some new ones. And yes, in case you were wondering, you can still smell the animals of New England dioramas. I understand how important that is. I feel you. It’s a classic.
So let’s talk about writing academically versus writing for a blog. Because it’s so different. Is that obvious? I want to hash it out a little, here.
Sometimes I have a hard time with it, because the voice of this blog has been determined. How do I stick to that? I want it to be honest, sometimes smart, nice to look at, a little funny, and accessible. People (bloggers) always talk about writing the blog you would want to read, but if I’m honest, I read a wide range of internet content, and some of it is total garbage. As an academic, I don’t feel comfortable writing garbage. But, and kind of a big but, girldust isn’t meant to be an academic or research blog. I will tell you that I am extremely thankful for the loose definition of “lifestyle blog.” I can more or less do whatever I want, be who I am, and hopefully, eventually, there will be a handful of people I connect with.
You can get away with quite a lot when it comes to writing for a personal blog. Good spelling and grammar are important to me, but blogging actually allows me to use a more colloquial style, which I think is a lot of fun. I can choose to write how I might speak if you were here; I can use different style of language than I would when writing a paper for school, as long as it’s more or less appropriate for my message. I can have one sentence paragraphs if I want. Heck, I could use a bunch of hashtags. I won’t. I could.
TL;DR: there’s a lot of freedom in blogging. If you want there to be.
There’s the freedom to decide you don’t want that freedom. Blah blah etc.
I was a little worried, when I began taking graduate classes, that I would have a difficult time switching back and forth. It turns out that, after having an online presence for over a decade, I’ve had more than enough experience juggling; it’s not switching voices that’s difficult, it’s simply finding the time.
So today I made a little time.
Please pardon my appearance for the next while. I recently changed my site layout by literally just a smidge (is a smidge 50 pixels or so?), but I will not be resizing old photos. The entries following this one will be held to higher standards, and I apologize for being jarring to your pretty eyeballs.
My thoughts are a bit of a jumble. Not in a bad way, just… in the way.
I think it’s probably safe to say that there will be no more snow. Thank you, April. I am not sure if the last frost is behind us, but the crocuses popping up across the street at Tj’s parents’ house seem to be a positive sign. It’s hard to believe that only a year ago I was getting packed and ready for a week in Saint John. It was my first teal-blue Caribbean Sea experience, and hopefully not my last.
We don’t have an exotic vacation planned for this year, but we have been considering a small trip to Philadelphia, a canoe trip in the summer, and possibly a three-day train trip from Portland ME to Portland OR in early fall. I am not sure what this season will bring. There are many things I want to be in play by the time September rolls around, it’s all just a matter of keeping my head up. April is my starting point. It feels like there a million things I should do before I turn thirty in October, as if these things are expected of me from some unknown judgmental crowd. I blame the whole… publicly shared bucket-list phenomenon. In reality, though, it’s only what I expected of myself at a particular moment in time. I am free to tell my previous self to keep it to herself. If I choose.
They are small things, mostly. I don’t feel bad in the slightest for being unmarried or for not having children or for not currently working in my desired field. I only just discovered what my “desired field” is. In the grande scheme of the world, of course, all things in my life are small. When I look at things that way, it all seems far less terrifying. All decisions are equally important and unimportant. That doesn’t make them less meaningful, only more manageable. Which socks am I wearing today? Should I get a loan to pay for grad school, or pay it myself? Same same.
My class at Harvard is going well. I should be registering for my first real graduate level class soon. Harvard yard really comes to life as soon as the snow melts, and Cambridge is like a brand new world. I think that’s the case with most New England towns, though; you really have to experience them all year round to get to their true character.
I have decided that my focus throughout my Museum Studies education will be on Native American history and culture. I would love to eventually intern at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, which is a Smithsonian extension. Museum jobs are competitive and the opportunities are fleeting, so I have absolutely no idea what this will mean in terms of a career, but I’m looking forward to diving into things in the fall. I am so, so thankful to have a supportive partner in all this. It’s a wonderful feeling, to have someone who believes you can do whatever you want. It makes me believe that, too. My self-confidence has risen on my own accord quite significantly over the last few years, as well. I am a completely different person that I was when I first began my education.
When I was first considering a graduate degree, I was feeling really bogged down my undergraduate focus, wishing that I had chosen Native American Studies over Asian Studies, but I remind myself that with that decision made, I would have never traveled to China, I would never have taken the classes that made me fall in love with learning all over again. I chose Asian Studies because that’s what I wanted to learn at the time; now I want to immerse myself in something new, something if only a fraction closer to my own heart and heritage. I still love Asian art, and I am sure that I could find an interesting scholarly pursuit in that regard, but I don’t think my heart would be fully in it.
Here are some books currently on my reading list:
- Native American Voices on Identity, Art, and Culture: Objects of Everlasting Esteem
- Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art (Peabody Essex Museum)
- The Changing Presentation of the American Indian
- Women and Ledger Art: Four Contemporary Native American Artists
I have been having a lot of strange dreams about my mother lately, and I imagine it’s because I’ve been thinking about her so much. This time of year, memories are brought to the surface that were dormant through the winter months. There is just so much about her family and her history that will probably always be unknown to me, and I regret not being more interested when I was younger. But honestly, how many fifteen year old girls are interested in anything about their mothers? I will fully admit to being somewhat of a self-centered brat when it came to my mom, but I was also a teenager. I could have been better, I could have been much worse. It’s weird to think back on that as an adult. It’s tough. I imagine, maybe in another decade, it will be easier. I think a lot of what I’m currently pursuing, both in hobby and in education, has a lot to do with wanting to somehow get in touch with her (not in a spiritual way, but in a real way… getting in touch with who she was before I was around). Her interests interest me.
Thanks for stopping by. My name is Naomi, and this space is made of girldust. This blog is a picture of my comfortably scattered life on the coast of Maine. I'm trying to be a slightly better version of myself every day. I like old houses, reading, the ocean, ghost stories, and museums. You can learn a little bit more about me here.