Tag Archives: Art Galleries London

Adventures in Art with Children: tell stories…but just a few | Sarah Palferman | Minerva London | Part 2

Sarah Palferman shares with us another feature on why art exhibitions are brilliant for young minds. Sarah has the gift to harness our children’s sponge-like minds to absorb and learn about art in the most interesting of ways.  I cannot wait to take my children to London to expose them next summer to the galleries with Sarah.

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Albert Einstein.

There are more than 850 art galleries in London. The city’s wealth of culture might, therefore, rather easily overwhelm even those of us who schedule furtive ‘gallery time’ into the working week. This is particularly true if you are a child and the very word “gallery” might render you instantly fatigued.

It has been argued that art exhibitions are no places for children and, while anyone whose contemplation of a sublimely silent Dutch interior has been shattered by the noisy protestations of young visitors being dragged round London’s National Gallery might agree, I do not.

Those noisy protestations are unnecessary. Done the right way, it is perfectly possible to engage young people with art so that their curiosities are sparked, their wonderfully sponge-like brains are stimulated … and they have fun!

Human beings are hardwired for stories. We have told them to each other since the dawn of time; we have written about them in literature from the Epic of Gilgamesh inscribed on clay tablets in ancient Sumer onwards; we depict them in music, theatre and dance; and we express them through visual art.

Behind so many canvases and sculptures lining the walls of London’s galleries lurk fascinating stories waiting to be discovered: scenes of scandal, war, revenge, love; canvases with their own tales of tragedy and fables of forgery; art that might or might not even qualify as art.

It is hard, for example, not to be moved by Waterhouse’s symbol-sprinkled and gorgeous depiction of the ill-fated Lady of Shalott, frozen in Tate Britain moments from her demise. The power of this tale to enthral is evident in the layers of inspiration from Arthurian legend through Tennyson’s poetry to Waterhouse’s paintbrush.

The National Gallery is heaving with portrayals of myth: Daphne mid-transformation into a laurel tree as an arboreal escape from the attentions of Apollo; Bacchus mid-leap from his chariot, struck by a coup de foudre on discovering the abandoned Ariadne; the Rokeby Venus mid-languid gaze at the viewer and fully recovered from her attack with a meat cleaver at the hands of a suffragette in 1914.

At the Courtauld Gallery skulks The Procuress, the subject of decades of speculation and revealed by clever modern investigative techniques to be the handiwork of a somewhat talented twentieth-century Dutch forger rather than of an early seventeenth-century painter of original creations, also Dutch.

Focusing on just a few pieces and exploring them together in depth is far better than parading children round vast rooms of great masterpieces and, even worse, telling them that these are ‘Great Masterpieces’. Research conducted in the USA over the past decade concluded that the study of the visual arts allows young people to explore ideas, realities and relationships that cannot be conveyed simply in words. Through visual stories, children can explore concepts beyond their own environments and appreciate alternative viewpoints. They are exposed to different cultural perspectives and social groups in entirely unthreatening circumstances. They can develop a sense of themselves in relation to others and the world they inhabit.

Captivating young imaginations with the stories behind art, and keeping each cultural encounter clearly focused so that repeat visits are begged, removes the danger of dissociation from artistic tradition that many children might experience. It endows them with a sense of wonder without the risk of paralysing awe, or even worse, scant interest. It allows them to see themselves as part of a cultural continuum, with the capacity to engage in a journey of discovery that will enrich their whole lives.

Sarah Palferman is a private tutor and educational advisor. She is the founder of Minerva London Ltd, offering tailored adventures in art and culture to young people in London.

To find out more, please visit

Minverva London

or email

sarah@minervalondon.com

Adventures in Art with Children: knowledge and thought | Sarah Palferman | Minerva London

Sarah Palferman established Minerva London to share her passion for culture and arts with young people of all ages and comes highly recommended from friends I know.  She likes to inspire her pupils outside of the classroom to enrich their education and to teach them life skills by helping them to formulate their own opinions and ideas as this can only increase the children’s self-confidence and to broader their minds.  Sarah developed this business on the back of an experienced history with children having worked for the last twenty years with children and young people on an individual or group basis using her background in education and psychology.  You can spend the day with Dragons at the British Museum or find scenes from Shakespeare at Tate Britain.  Sarah tells us in her own words more about how exposure to art can benefit your child.  If you are in London this summer and looking for new activities for children, join Sarah and her team for one of their tours.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited” – Plutarch

The quality of a child’s earliest encounters with culture is of paramount importance. A poor experience of anything can alienate the most open-minded among us. Done with sensitivity, however, an introduction to art offers the perfect opportunity for children to begin to formulate their own ideas and preferences, to develop skills of critical thought and self-expression, and to cultivate a livelong enjoyment in arts and the process of learning itself.

It is tempting to regale children with facts and figures in a gallery or museum; to focus on names and dates and a chronology of artistic movements. This is an almost sure-fire method for switching them off. That’s not to say that knowledge is unimportant. Knowledge, the logic that stitches facts into a meaningful fabric of understanding, provides context from which children can begin to explore concepts and ideas independently.

Teaser nuggets of fascinating fact provide the springboard from which we can encourage young people to think about what they are seeing. We can prompt with questions and withhold our own views to provide the space for children’s opinions and judgements to feel both valid and valued.

Children encountering Monet’s Antibes, billed by the artist as ‘sweetness itself’, and Degas’s Two Dancers, who have graced many a greetings card, will be startled by the fact that these works were once decried as ‘unfinished wallpaper’; the half-heated efforts of ‘lazy’ artists. Works by these radical rebels, admired by nearly 200,000 visitors annually in London’s Courtauld Gallery, are now revered in blockbuster exhibitions (such as that recently at the National Gallery and now to be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art) for their spontaneity and the enchanting play of natural light.

Meeting Ophelia in Tate Britain (and the unfortunate model who may have caught the illness from which she perished while lying in a cold bath as Millais’ muse) serves as an introduction to the initially secretive Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Therein lies scope for discussion of the potential clash between artistic realism and responsibility, framed by this group’s tackling of morally ambiguous subjects and the contemporary Victorians who reeled from them. Exploring moral dilemmas in art, as research shows, helps children to confront the challenges they encounter in their own lives.

Younger visitors to London’s galleries can find so much pleasure in such enigmatic works as Holbein’s The Ambassadors with its spookily distorted skull, in exploring the weird and wacky installations of Tate Modern, and in identifying the saints of the National Gallery’s abundant Renaissance panels once they have been given some simple hagiographic keys with which to unlock these (and even further delight in augmenting their vocabularies with the word ‘hagiographic’!).

With an appreciation that every creative decision made by an artist is a deliberate and conscious act, children will develop a spirit of inquiry in their encounters with visual art. The skills of independent thought thus acquired help children to develop their personalities, abilities and imaginations. They encourage them to form a sense of their own identities and to express themselves fully. All these foster an interest in the process of learning itself and have a demonstrable influence on wider academic attainment.

There is enormous pleasure to be found in exploring culture with children; in watching curiosities spark into life and fanning the flames of creative and independent thought. Far from silently contemplative spaces for adults already initiated in the joys of cultural exploration, then, art galleries should be teeming with young people and open minds.

Sarah Palferman is a private tutor and educational advisor. She is the founder of Minerva London Ltd, offering tailored adventures in art and culture to young people in London.

To find out more, please visit

Minerva London

or email

sarah@minervalondon.com