Opening Young Eyes to “Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings” at the San Antonio Museum of Art

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My daughter, G.N., was worried about being bored at the San Antonio Museum of Art. We were on our way to see Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid, at the museum through September 16, 2018. (She said she would rather see Immersed again.) With some guidance, she asked good questions and opened her eyes to the works in the exhibit. Here are some reflections on our visit and advice for taking a tour of “Spain: 500 Years” with the children in your life.

Coaching Kids for a Museum Visit

Boredom can come from a lack of stimulation or from being overwhelmed. G.N. was worried that there would be lots of paintings that didn’t make sense to her. I asked her to do two things in the exhibit:

  1. Open her eyes.
  2. Ask questions.

As long as she opened her eyes, and didn’t just drift away, then she would keep soaking up information. Even if she just looked closely at one painting in each room, that would be a good start.

Girl in the courtyard at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

Most exhibits are designed for adults who have some knowledge of art history and use their experience to put the paintings in context. Object labels share details about a painting, but generally do not explain major art movements.

G.N.’s school has a strong art program. Art classes meet two or three times a week. The teachers cover major periods in art history from prehistory to modern art, and then the students practice techniques based on their study of art history. Even with this preparation, it still takes practice to access that knowledge in a museum or gallery setting.

Asking questions is a way to fill in the blanks. For example, the “Spain: 500 Years” exhibit includes many pictures of saints, and G.N. asked about their lives and how they died. These discussions are a good way to share the cultural, religious, and historical context of the artworks.

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to talk your kids into going to an art museum, then read about these educational benefits. It can feel hard to get started, but building up experience looking at and talking about art will pay off in the long run.

We like to balance out our time talking and thinking in the galleries with some good walks to burn off energy. At the San Antonio Museum of Art, going up the stairs of the west tower (starting in the ancient Mediterranean galleries) to the skybridge gets your heart pumping and rewards you with a beautiful view of downtown San Antonio and the river.

Panoramic view of the skybridge at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

What to Look for in “Spain: 500 Years”

“Spain: 500 Years” includes works from the greatest Spanish painters and spans a time period from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. It ties in well with San Antonio’s tricentennial celebrations. Adults will be impressed by how many prestigious museums were persuaded to loan paintings to be shipped to the United States. Children, however, are more likely to see the paintings as they look, without expectations.

One of the striking things about “Spain: 500 Years” is how many paintings have children as subjects. The exhibit tells a story about how, over the centuries, childhood has changed. For example, a 16th century princess is presented with power and majesty in a jewel-covered gown. This work by Alonso Sánchez Coello, The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, is from 1579 and is on loan from the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Alonso Sánchez Coello, “The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia,” 1579, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

An 18th century boy looks like a young aristocrat, dressed in a small version of an adult man’s suit. This portrait by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, entitled Don Vicente Isabel Osorio de Moscos y Álvarez de Toledo, Conde de Trastámara, is dated 1787-1788, and is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, “Don Vicente Isabel Osorio de Moscos y Álvarez de Toledo, Conde de Trastámara,” 1787-1788, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

A group of 19th-century children, in Antonio María Esquivel’s Children Playing with a Ram (1843), from the Museo del Romanticismo in Madrid, are in varied poses, but still gaze firmly at the viewer.

Antonio María Esquivel, “Children Playing with a Ram,” 1843, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

An early 20th century beach scene—Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s Bath Time, Valencia (1909) from the Fundacíon Museo Sorolla, Madrid—is charmingly informal, with clothes hanging off shoulders. The subjects are not posed, but are busy playing in the water.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, “Bath Time, Valencia,” 1909, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

Tips for Your San Antonio Museum of Art Visit

Once I talked my kids into it, they enjoyed the new exhibit, “Spain: 500 Years”, at the San Antonio Museum of Art. As we leave an exhibit, I usually ask both of my kids to name their favorite thing. My son, F.T., liked a 19th century Biblical scene, Antonio María Esquivel’s Hagar and Ismael in the Desert (1856), from the Museo del Romanticismo, Madrid. Their expressions are powerfully emotional. He also liked the rosy sky.

Antonio María Esquivel, “Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert,” 1856, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

My daughter, G.N., chose a landscape scene as her favorite—Santiago Rusiñol, Green Wall. Sa Coma, V (1904) from the Coleccíon Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. She talked about wanting to travel and visit hillsides and gardens like that.

Santiago Rusiñol, “Green Wall. Sa Coma, V,” 1904, at "Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid" at the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

As you plan your visit, check the event calendar for special activities like concerts and docent-led tours. Keep in mind that the exhibit closes on September 16, 2018, and there are no other stops on this tour. The museum has free hours when visitors to “Spain: 500 Years” only need to pay the $5 surcharge; more details at Hours and Admission. Round up some friends or classmates for a group tour. You might see some special guests, like Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his family reading Arte Kids books aloud in the courtyard.

Erika Prosper, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and son Jonah reading aloud in the courtyard of the San Antonio Museum of Art | San Antonio Charter Moms

As you walk through the exhibit, keep your eyes open and listen for questions. You and the children in your life will have some good discussions and will grow in knowledge and empathy.

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sachartermoms

Parent-activist and education blogger in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Helping parents make informed school choices and explore cultural activities.

One Comment

  1. Great article!

    Taking kids to museums can be a chore, but it’s worth it. For the youngest among us, though, it can be much simpler to start by checking out the public art installed around town. Public art is typically outside, generally free, and only takes a few minutes — great for short attention spans. Exercise & play breaks can be built in, since many pieces are installed in public parks where your child can feel free to walk, play, dance, and sing to burn off excess energy. Added bonus: The questions your child asks about public art will often lead to you learning something new and surprising about your hometown. 🙂

    My book, What’s That, Mom? includes 15 tips for using public art to engage your children with art & your community — without being an artist yourself. I’ve also crafted a journal which parents can use to structure those early conversations around art. You can find them on Amazon at https://amazon.com/author/shalahowell or IndieBound at https://bit.ly/2LycdIr

    Happy art hunting!

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