Modern Art and the 4 year old

This weekend, my Dad and I, took 4yo Miss L to an exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, inspired by Jean Genet, a French writer and playwright.  I’m bored with stereotypical pre school activities, my cultural life is dwindling, and besides, I wanted to see what Miss L would make of a modern art gallery.


There were a few hiccups, like when the gallery attendant politely asked Miss L stopped taking photos of Giacometti’s multi million pound bronze sculpture ‘Man Pointing’ on her Vtech camera. (Just for the record, before you think ‘wow those vtechs have great picture quality’ and rush out to buy one, this is not her picture).
Giacometti –  Man Pointing


We also had a not so profound discussion about Man Pointing, but hey it’s early days.

Me: What’s he doing?
L:    Pointing
Me: I wonder why?
L:    Dunno.
Me: What’s it made of?
L:     Hmmm…Plastic.

In another room a small child was in tears after a gallery assistant had to rush in and coax him off one of the exhibits, a stool covered in newspaper print. Easy mistake to make when your little, in a room with both ‘art’ chairs and ‘everyday’ chairs.


Miss L was also fascinated by a video installation of a woman in a fur coat.  I stood next to her, slightly nervous about where the film was heading, attempting distractions.  But, perhaps sensing this, she dug her heels in and watched it to the end, where it was suggested that either the coat brings her immense pleasure, or comes alive and kills her.  We discussed the evils of the fur trade and moved on.

Genet was an advocate for the Black Panther Party, and for the Palestinian cause, the focus for the second half of the exhibition.  Trying to explain the political murals of Emory Douglas, Culture Minister for the Black Panther Party was challenging, but not impossible.  The sheer scale of it excited her. 
Miss L by a mural by Emory Douglas

I only just managed to stop Miss L picking up one of Mona Hatoum’s glazed ceramic hand-grenades in various colours, but this led to an interesting discussion of shapes and textures

Mona Hatoum by DARAT AL FUNUN
So my top tips for visiting galleries with under fives (a.k.a. notes to self with the benefit of hindsight).

Dad and Miss L

1. Explain the rules and the space before you go in.  What is the space about? What can/can’t you do?  Oh, and these rules ‘might’ have to change a little as you go round.

2. Try and clue up before hand via the website, so you can understand the exhibition yourself and interpret it for a small child simultaneously. 
3.  Rather than explain ask questions.  At first answers might be brief, but questions encouraging the mind to wander independently. Think colours, textures, emotions, objects.
4.  If there’s a visual brochure suggest children use it to spot the exhibits as they go round. Or play i spy.  Where permitted, cameras are a good way to document what they liked, to talk about later.  Brochures are good for cutting and sticking at home.  A whole day of art gallery themed fun.
5.  Look out for child friendly activities.  Nottingham Contemporary has a family room and activities on all over the summer.  


This trip has inspired my Little Legacy for this week.  More on Thursday.

6 thoughts on “Modern Art and the 4 year old

  1. Pingback: Little Legacy #3 Art appreciation

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