Art from a Distance
Michelle Brenner, Head of Education
April 6, 2020
The Power of Art
Lately, I’ve been thinking of the little girl in Berthe Morisot’s painting In a Villa at the Seaside. With her back to the viewer, she leans on the balcony railing from her respectable perch. She watches the people on the beach below and I imagine her wishing she could join the fun. I think we can all sympathize with that feeling of watching and waiting right now.
Art reminds us to slow down and appreciate what’s in front of us. It allows us to see beyond our immediate circumstances to a bigger historical and cultural picture. It connects us. Even at a time of social isolation, people from all over the world can contemplate the same work of art, together. Take, for instance, the National Gallery of Art’s video tours of individual galleries on social media. They allow viewers to travel and experience new things, despite the fact that we are all homebound. They force us to pause and absorb the museum one gallery at a time.
Art-Centric Activities for Kids
Making art can be a calming and meditative activity, something to do with your family. My sons (ages five and two) and I have started testing out art activity ideas for the Museum at home. We recently made decorated boxes for storing their art supplies. We used shoeboxes and tea canisters we had at home. My younger son used stickers and glitter glue to decorate his box, and my older son used glitter glue, sequins and collage. The activity kept them both occupied and engaged, and it ended in a more organized art drawer.
Another fun family project was making a puppet out of cardboard from packages and diaper boxes, paper plates, felt and other materials like cotton balls and buttons. We even repurposed one of my son’s art projects from school, a paper-plate head. The puppet was a good way to get my kids thinking about movement and pose, and my older son used Cray-Pas oil pastels for the first time, which was exciting for him. We also do a lot of drawing around here.
Once the Museum reopens, I’m looking forward to the upcoming Expressive Body exhibition. The show looks at how people from various time periods have experienced and internalized art. It invites viewers to engage with art in new ways. The Education team has been working with the curator, Maggie Bell, to create a meditation space in the final gallery of the show. Visitors will have an opportunity to sit with the art and really take the time to slow down and think about how art affects them. Too often, we rush past artworks in an effort to see everything in the museum in one visit. This dedicated space extends what we’ve been doing with the Mindful Looking program, and it invites people to have a similar experience on their own terms.
Head of Education Michelle Brenner oversees the Norton Simon Museum’s many family and adult education programs—from school tours to art-making workshops to guided tours and more—and she manages a team of wonderful educators and staff.