Through the eyes of a child

March 7, 2011 — 29 Comments

Sometimes in order to appreciate something, you need to know it, understand its reason, purpose or methods.

Sometimes there is some historical context that adds relevance or importance.

Sometimes the skill to produce a thing is obvious, it appears difficult, requires technique, skill, patience.

Sometimes it’s just nice to look at – it’s pretty, and it makes you feel good.


Self Portrait, Vincent Van Gogh, Museé d’Orsay, Paris, France

I was reminded of this last summer when my wife and I went to Paris and we brought along with us our then 5 year old daughter. Since she is an only child, she is used to getting a lot of attention from her parents so there are times when we ask her to go along with something that Mom and Dad want to do even though we know she will be bored after 30 minutes. Such was the case when we went through the Museé d’Orsay, probably the 3rd of 4th museum in Paris we made her go through.

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite painters and the Museé d’Orsay has one of the very best collections of his work so this little field trip was going to happen. As expected, after about 30 minutes my daughter said she was bored and I wasn’t ready to leave. In an effort to extend our stay, I picked her up and started carrying her around with me as we looked at the paintings. Distraction tactics commenced – I started asking her questions about the paintings I was looking at:

How many ears can you see?

Where is the blackest black?

Where was the artist trying to get you to look?

What do you think those yellow bursts look like?


Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, Museé d’Orsay, Paris, France

Asking these questions might have initially started out as a way to distract her so we could stop and stand in front of a particular painting for awhile but it turned into us looking at the painting differently. Sometimes we had to move closer, sometimes we had to move further away. She started to qualify what she was looking at –

“I like this one better than that one”, or

“this pale blue in the middle is nice”, or

“that woman looks sad, she must be very lonely”

She started to see the paintings as a story rather than an image and I started to do the same thing. We started making up our own stories of what was happening in the paintings we saw. It was by far the best experience I’ve ever had in a museum.


Au Café dit L’Absinthe by Degas, Museé d’Orsay, Paris, France

Kids are funny that way, their impatience or intolerance with a thing typically comes from not understanding it or from being disinterested in the current activity. The slightest of changes will impact the way they see something, and as a result, their behavior will change your behavior. There is no question this activity with my daughter made my trip to the Museé d’Orsay significantly more enjoyable – our 30 minute excursion lasted close to 3 hours.


Irises in Monet’s Garden by Claude Monet, Museé d’Orsay, Paris, France

Take some time to slow down and look at what you are looking at. It can be a bunch of paint brush strokes you’re looking at or people standing in line to get their coffee. Looking at the things around the thing you are looking at can add to the experience in ways you won’t know until you try. Sometimes all it takes is a 5 year kid to point that out to you.

Has anyone else ever had this experience or one like it?




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  • noble

    I read architecture at the rivers state university of science an technology, port Harcourt Nigeria am not satisfied yet with what was thought here. i want to learn more of architecture and work in your country what do i do.

  • Faye

    Hey Bob

    I am an architecture student in the UK and have 4 kids (14, 8 and 6 yr old twins) As I make most of my models at home on the kitchen table I have learnt to look to the kids for their opinions. If they come in from school and say “Wow Mum that’s cooooool” I am usually on the right track……….however “Erm….whats that???” is an indication that I will be starting again.

    Doing this course later in life with the perspective that children constantly offer almost makes up for the lack of sleep and high levels of stress/guilt/fear etc etc

    Your blog is also very very useful and inspiring so thank you for all you do

  • Dr M

    Dear Bob…. Kids do say the darnest things but there is so much to learn from it. their imagination is a universe of its own and othen full of adventures… I have 3 lovely kids of my own and I have made numerous adventures with them especially during bed time story telling and drawing time.

    I have loved every adventure travelled and clicked in a memory….

    Your story was nice to read too…. loved it.

  • Dr M

    Dear Bob…. Kids do say the darnest things but there is so much to learn from it. their imagination is a universe of its own and othen full of adventures… I have 3 lovely kids of my own and I have made numerous adventures with them especially during bed time story telling and drawing time.

    I have loved every adventure travelled and clicked in a memory….

    Your story was nice to read too…. loved it.

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  • This reminds me of something Georgia O’Keefe said of her photographer husband Alfred Stieglitz. She said, “he has never traveled to make a photo. His eyes are always with him” (or something like that)

    • I had to look that quote up:

      As O’Keeffe said, “I never knew him to make a trip anywhere to photograph. His eye was in him, and he used it on anything that was nearby. Maybe that way he was always photographing himself.”

      I love that. Thanks for sharing Gloria

  • Nice post Bob. Enjoyed.

  • Enjoyed the post Bob, Musee d’Orsay is a favorite and moments shared like those with the ones we love, especially our children are incredibly special…and should give one pause. I know I will never be able to teach my daughter all of what she has taught me or continues to teach me — through her eyes. Cheers.

    • Jaime,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I apreciate it.

  • Keep it up Bob –You’ll be paying for art school someday!

  • Keep it up Bob –You’ll be paying for art school someday!

    • Is it too early to start wishing for a scholarship?

  • Larry Bloom

    I forgot. I had a similar experience this weekend. Not at a museum, but at home. She had an assignment for Girl Scouts to go to a museum, theater, or learn about art that had either a religious, cultural, or something about serving our country.
    I found my Bizarre Buildings book and paged through the cultural section, which had some great regligious buildings. We talked about the use of symbolism, pattern, religious use, and other design aspects as part of the building and different religions. I asked her what symbols or patterns she could use in a church or synagogue, and we had a great learning experience. She learned that not just art can have meaning, but buildings, too.

    • That would be an interesting conversation to have – I think I’ll try it out.

      Great idea Larry!

  • I am 43, but staring 44 in the face. I have always like to imagine stories for paintings. When I was a docent at the Corcoran in DC, I would do that to help myself remember details about the artist or the work. It makes me glad to know that it was just the child in me coming through. I feel a bit less old.

    • That’s right – you are only as old as you feel.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment -I appreciate it.


  • I’m in love with museums too, and used to drag my kids along when they were small. I’d want to read each description/bio, and of course, they didn’t. We never made it to 3 hours, but we did find some good ways to stretch their attention span. The most fun they ever had at a museum was at the torture museum in Amsterdam. It would appear that young boys are fascinated by torture devices. Who knew?!!!

    • I need to go to that museum! Does it have things in it like vacuum cleaners and brussel sprouts?

  • She may be five, but this is an experience she’ll probably never forget. We tend to remember moments like this when we get older. Nice, I think I’ll try this with my son.

    • I am hoping that she will remember some of these things. I keep thinking that proportionately we are making new and important memories every single day so now is the time to really let her brain soak it all in.

      Talking about a painting is nice
      Talking about a painting (or anything for that matter) while standing in front of it is better!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Bob, and yes, with my eight year old son, I have looked at things in such a different light and change in priority. It amazes me constantly what children see and often what adults miss. Thanks for reminding us. I may use your museum technique myself.

    • Hi Lee,

      You’ll have to let me know how your trip goes. I’m not sure my “technique” would even work on my daughter now that she’s a year older but I may not have to resort to such methods.


  • Larry Bloom

    Hey Bob. Been a while. This was a great blog. I had to share it on facebook. This is the best example of how important it is to “share” experiences with our children, not just show them. I love taking my daughter to the museum. Every now and then we do the “free first Saturday” at the Dallas Museums. Especially like the Nasher. They have a scavenger hunt. I think she likes Dega’s ballerina’s the most. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Hi Larry –

      I should take my daughter to the First Saturday at the Dallas Museum’s. We’ll go to the Nasher once it warms up a little. These days, we spend most of our time at the zoo, the Butterfly Garden and the Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park. I can’t wait until spring and summer get here and we’ll mix in the Arboretum.

      Thanks Larry, hope things are well.

  • Emily

    Great post. This happened to me in Spain with you and some of the other architects along for the ride, particularly at the City of Arts and Sciences. I thought the buildings looked like cruise ships in the middle of those pools until you pointed out the function for the warmer months. Understanding the function helped me appreciate it a lot more.
    Add teacher to your list of roles. I learned a lot on that trip.

    • I’m sure you learned a lot but probably not from me. I was too busy taking pictures!

  • Fantastic post Bob. It’s amazing how much an art museum can open up when you have a interesting party along for the ride.

    • Thanks Paul,

      I think you are right, looking at and talking about art is more fun when there’s two people involved.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment