July 7, 2020

Children and Teens Offer Interpretations of SMoCA’s Unapologetic Exhibition

Having trouble understanding contemporary art? Let your children “kidsplain” it to you! 

If you ever want to see just how imaginative and ingenious your kids are, take them to a contemporary art museum (ahem—preferably SMoCA)! Many adults feel that contemporary art can be baffling and intimidating, but I haven’t met a child or teen yet who can’t enlighten us with an original interpretation. We have a lot to learn from the way that children can interpret visual language and use their unlimited creativity to make sense of what they see. 

I recently asked five children and teens, ages 6–14, to look at an image of an artwork in the exhibition Unapologetic: All Women, All Year at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Without any information other than what they could see, each child or teen offered their view of what the piece is about. 

Notice how much 8-year old Olivia Plecas can read into this simply-structured painting: 

Monique Prieto 
United States, b. 1962 
Arizona High Noon 
16 x 15 ½ inches 
Gift of Lewis and Roca, Phoenix 
Olivia describes what the shapes in Monique Prieto’s Arizona High Noon mean to her.

It’s interesting to note that Olivia sees people in the three forms, as this parallels the artist’s intention to interpret the abstract shapes as figures interacting with one another.

14-year old Lilly Pearson tackled a complex work by Dominique Blain. The artwork presents a bullet, a cigar, and a tube of lipstick. What do you think this piece is about? Listen to the profound meaning Lilly recognizes in the work: 

Dominique Blain 
Canada, b. 1957 
Cigar, bullet, lipstick on wood 
18 ½ x 16 9/16 x 2 ½ inches 
Gift of Dorothy Rissman 
Lilly uncovers profound symbolism in Dominque Blain’s work.

Lilly’s sister Bella (13) noticed that Lalla Essaydi’s photograph has a somber quality, and the repetitive task of writing words over all the surfaces has importance to its meaning: 

Lalla Essaydi 
Morocco, b. 1956 
Converging Territories #9 
Incorporated color coupler print 
32 x 39 ¼ inches 
Gift of Carolyn Eason in memory of Don Eason 
Bella shares a great description of Lalla Essaydi’s work.

Asking your children questions to open up discussion about the artwork is important—and fun! Be sure to ask open-ended questions to encourage nice long, descriptive answers. My favorite questions to ask children are: 

  1. What does this artwork mean to you (or what do you think it means)? 
  2. What title would you give this piece and why?
  3. Why do you think the artist made this piece?
  4. If you could ask the artist a question, what would it be?

Laura Best, local artist and installation manager at SMoCA, models asking these questions to her two children, Malcolm, 6, and Rosie, 9: 

Melinda Bergman 
United States, b. 1953 
Pretty Teeth  
Wood, enamel 
Dimensions variable 
Gift of the artist 
Malcolm shares his ideas about Melinda Bergman’s Pretty Teeth.
Dorothy Fratt 
United States, 1923–2017 
Red Mesa 
Acrylic on canvas 
40 ½ x 42 inches 
Acquired by the fine arts trust in memory of Dickson Hartwell  
Rosie talks about Red Mesa by Dorothy Fratt.

Now, it’s true these children live in creative families. Olivia is artist Lara Plecas’ daughter, and Bella and Lilly ‘s mother is Kristin Bauer, who is showing work at SMoCA currently. Exhibitions Manager and artist Laura Spalding Best’s children, Rosie and Malcolm, have pretty much grown up at SMoCA, too. But all children have a wonderful openness to looking at new things, and you will be amazed at what yours have to say about the art at SMoCA

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