How to Build Your Private Art Collection (in Your Head)

Art becomes yours when you look at it.

My final project in my Professional Tour Guiding program for Washington, DC was to create a 1.5 hour tour. I knew I wanted to make my tour an interactive, hands-on tour that families with young children would all enjoy. I wanted it to be like a really good children’s movie, that even the adults genuinely want to go to! After over 20 hours of time spent researching and figuring out how the tour would come together, I ended up with “Experience Art: A Children’s Tour of the National Gallery of Art”.

During my preparation, I read this wonderful blog post by Art Class Curator, where she gives 4 ideas for talking to your kids about art. It’s definitely worth a read before your next family visit to the art museum!

The everyday person feels inept and ill-prepared at looking at and understanding art. They feel like there is something that people who enjoy art have that they themselves don’t. This is partly because of the elitism formed around art and the art world for a good part of the 20th century. I am here to tell you that art is for everyone. You, as you are today, are fully capable of experiencing art for yourself.

Young children on the other hand don’t come with these hesitancies and blocks. They accept art and enjoy it for what it is. Your first goal when talking about art with your kids: be more like them!

Mary Cassatt - The Boating Party

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 – 1926), The Boating Party, 1893/1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection 1963.10.94

I found this article so inspiring, in fact, that I quote her at the beginning of my tour, “Art becomes yours when you look at it.” I tell the kids (and their parents) that as we you look at the art, you’ll create a memory of it in your head that you can remember later, and it becomes a part of your private art collection in your head. Then we go and “collect” some art!

If you aren’t sure where to start when visiting the National Gallery of Art (or one of the other art museums in Washington, DC), I re-created an Art Detective Case File that I used with my own kids in 2014 after we studied Mary Cassatt in our homeschool. They had so much fun following the floor plan to find The Boating Party painting that we’d read about. They were almost giddy with excitement! While re-creating it for you, I added the script from my tour where we are talking about The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt to give you an idea of how to get started talking about art with your kids. You can download this free Art Detective printable here.

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Caroline M. Harper

I curate the best stories and facts that grip children's curiosities wherever we go to create interactive self-guided family tours for children (and their families) in the Washington, DC area. I started the Field Trip Club in 2011 to help you make stress-free memories!

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