Taking the Kids — A new, innovative way to experience Monet’s art, especially for kids

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By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

The little water lily was so sad.

She was born without any color and didn’t think she was beautiful like the others.

“You are special and will do great things,” her mother assured her. She revealed her little petal’s very special power — her ability “to visit anywhere in the world and pick the colors of your choosing for your petals.”

Children in the Claude Monet The Truth of Nature exhibition
Children in the Claude Monet The Truth of Nature exhibition

All she had to do was imagine where she wanted to go, close her petals, say the place out loud … and when she opened her petals again, she would be there. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could do that?

But for the little water lily to finally get the color she so craved, she had to be able to describe what it looked like. Maybe that’s something you could try next time you are in an art museum with the kids!

Claude Monet, The Artist’s House at Argenteuil, 1873
Claude Monet, The Artist’s House at Argenteuil, 1873

When the little lily had accomplished that challenge, her mother promised, the color will “jump onto your petal and transform the way you look!” And the way kids consider the great Impressionist artist Claude Monet.

Welcome to the Denver Art Museum and the most comprehensive U.S. exhibit of Monet paintings in more than two decades — Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature. This will be the only museum in the country to have this landmark exhibit (until Feb. 2) before it travels to the new Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, which partnered with the Denver Museum to make this happen. I’m pleased to report that at the Denver Art Museum kids, up to 18, are free, and pay just $5 for special exhibits.

Claude Monet, View from Rouelles, 1858
Claude Monet, View from Rouelles, 1858

(Lonely Planet, which just named Denver a top U.S. city to visit in 2020, cites the Denver Art Museum as the Mile-High City’s second top attraction, right after Union Station.)

“What I would wish kids to take away is Monet’s enormous love of nature,” said Christoph Heinrich, director of the DAM, and himself the father of two children. He suggested that Monet’s paintings might help us all appreciate nature more.

And in some cases, a familiarity with a particular work of art might inspire a child to want to visit a particular place — that was the case when my daughter Mel, then about eight, insisted we visit Monet’s home at Giverny outside Paris because she had read and loved the classic story about Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork. I still smile thinking of that determined little girl leading her family on that expedition and showing me how excited kids get when they are allowed to lead the way, not to mention leading parents and siblings in new directions.

Linnea vid on sale in Denver Art Museum gift shop
Linnea vid on sale in Denver Art Museum gift shop

Traveling families and art lovers will love this Monet exhibit and the opportunity to start a dialog with kids about how we each react to new places in different ways. Monet, more than any of his fellow impressionists, traveled to capture nature in different places — from the Normandy coast to the sunny Mediterranean, foggy London, the Netherlands and winter in Norway. Of course, there are some water lilies. The exhibit, which includes loans from major museums and private collections around the world, is arranged thematically and chronologically, which will make it easier for kids to follow; especially with the little lily as their guide as she interacts with green leaves on the coast of Normandy, a carriage wheel in Paris, a drawbridge in the Netherlands, a smokestack in London and even Claude Monet’s son, Jean.

“He’s painted me many times,” the boy tells the lily in the audio guide, as visitors look at Monet’s The Artist’s House at Argenteuil, which depicts Jean outside in a sailor suit, his mom watching from the doorway. “It’s very colorful here, so you should have no problem finding a good color,” he suggests. The little lily agrees, choosing the bright blue that Monet had painted on a flowerpot.

The story of the traveling little water lily and her challenge to find and identify color was written by Lindsay Genshaft, who manages family programs at the Denver Art Museum where there are interactive family elements throughout the museum.

Claude Monet at Giverny, 1908 (b/w photo)
Claude Monet at Giverny, 1908 (b/w photo)

There is also an interactive play Genshaft has written, The Art Emergency: Monet Edition, which will run daily for school groups and for the public weekdays during winter break. The Art of Emergency enables kids to appreciate how Monet shook up the art world with his take on color, light and brushstrokes. “When kids and families get insight and the stories behind the artworks and artists, they get super excited to see the real thing in the galleries,” Genshaft explained. “Kind of like a concert where you know all the songs.”

To that end, parents can prepare kids for seeing this art exhibit and others by looking at a book on the paintings or searching online, Genshaft suggests. I think it helps if the kids know a little about the artist. How young were they when they discovered art? Where did they grow up?

You can always ask the kids what it is they are seeing (where would they be if they were to step inside the painting?) Genshaft advises engaging kids to describe the figures’ body language or the textures and lines. What is the artist trying to say? Is there a story in the painting? Does it have anything to say about our world today? Do you feel a connection?

I certainly did at the Monet exhibit. I want to return to Giverny — with my now-grown daughter.


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