How to talk to children about art?

At the Open Minds Lectures & Workshops’ second session (Nov 16, 2013 at Harmony Montessori, Santacruz), art educator Purnima Sampat spoke about How to talk to children about art?

The session brought together a diverse group of 32 participants, among them art teachers, college professors and parents. The interactive lecture was punctuated with critical analysis of significant paintings by western master artists and followed by a critical analysis session for the participants.

“It should be less about you talking, and more about what the children have to say”, began the session. As Purnima took the participants through key steps of talking about an artwork with a child –  of gathering the child’s initial responses, description, analysis and interpretation, sharing information about the artwork with the child and to personalising the conversation with the child – her thrust remained on importance to be given to what the child has to say.


As the participants saw a few prints of paintings, they touched upon the fundamental elements of the artworks, like colour, perspective, lines, composition, material, techniques, processes, mediums, among other, trying to engage with artworks, which many of them had never tried before.

Purnima’s expansive and detailed knowledge about art history gave the participants an insight about the different ways of looking at art, encountering new meanings and contextualising artworks in an easy manner while teaching children by personalising and simplifying the process.


Meanwhile, the kind of questions that children ask and how a teacher should respond, formed an important part of the session, while some of the teachers shared few problematic questions they faced in their classrooms. Coming across nudity in a few paintings, one of the teachers expressed discomfort in sharing such an image with students in her classroom- “If we ourselves are uncomfortable, how can we share and express with our students,” said one of the teachers.

Even though teachers understand that it is absolutely okay to paint an elephant red and the sky green, a number of parents might find this wrong and might be directing children to create the usual, predictable and the real. Purnima explained how teachers could play the role of giving creative freedom to children in their classrooms. “Our inclination and comfort with everything real should not be forced on children” said Purnima.


The concluding part of the session was a critical analysis exercise. Each of the participants was asked to look at different paintings and write down their analysis, after which they shared it with all the participants.

However, the result of such an interactive and analytic session cannot be limited to the immediate outcome of the participants sharing their critical analysis. It was, instead, noticed in the conversations they had with each other, in the notes scribbled in their diaries, the feedback they shared and further, in what they will take back to their classrooms.

While many suggested longer sessions, because they felt they wanted to do and learn more, others suggested a session on introduction to significant paintings, a session on coming together to discuss problems and questions faced in art classes and on learning about art history.

All in all, it was a winning session, which provoked and pushed the participants to engage with artworks to find new meanings, while learning about ways of talking about art with children.

How to talk to children about art? was an exercise of exchanging, absorbing, processing and translating in classrooms…

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand

Written by Jigna Padhiar

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