How to Talk to Children About Art

We have looked at a lot of art in our family…casual viewing, picture study, and more serious study with teens. It has brought us a lot of pleasure to have paintings that we can recognize and that are familiar friends. This past spring when we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City we saw in person many of the pieces we have studied over the years. Of course, this experience was a long time coming.

There have been times that I have struggled with how to draw my kids out when it comes to narrating a painting. Some paintings are appealing and easy to talk about and some not so easy.¬† I usually try to let the painting speak for itself and not get in the way too much when it comes to picture study. More often than not, my kids understand a painting much more readily than I do. But, there are many times that they ask questions about a painting or the artist that I can’t answer and that is when a simple guide would come in handy.

Now, after all these years, I have found a wonderful resource and guide, How to Talk to Children About Art by Francois Barbe-Gall. I picked this book up in the gift shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art but it is available at as well. The back cover says it is “for all who want to share their love of art with children”. I found it both informative and interesting and have read it cover to cover.

Here are some details about the book you may find helpful:

  • The introduction gives a simple overview of art history, easily presented in question and answer format
  • The pages are color coded¬† by age groups ( 5-7, 8-10, 11-13 years old) for each painting with suggested discussion ideas
  • 30 specific paintings (in full color) explained and annotated for the parent (familiar artists)
  • This is not a technical book full of background on the artist or the art time period. The author hopes you are going to view the artwork and talk about it in ordinary words (narration). You are encouraged to talk about what you see and then ask questions.

One of the paintings in the book is Van Gogh’s The Bedroom (shown on the cover above). Our family has looked at this painting many times over the years and we have even seen it in person. We turned to that painting in this book and read the accompanying information.

The book answers these questions: Whose bedroom is it? Why are his belongings in pairs?

It also discusses these topics: It is a very tidy bedroom. The colors are pretty. There isn’t much furniture. The walls seem a bit uneven.

And then some follow up questions: How did Van Gogh become so famous? Did people like his paintings? Why don’t we see a signature?

I enjoyed reading a little more about a familiar painting and I am looking forward to using the suggested paintings and information with the kids in my art co-op class. We are going to have some fun talking about great art! You can see the complete list of paintings covered in this book by clicking over to and viewing the table of contents.

If you are not confident about offering picture study or you aren’t sure how to share a painting with your children, this book is going to give you the tools to do that. After reading the book, you can easily apply what you have learned to any painting that you want to share with your children. How to Talk to Children About Art


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