Just returned from eight days in Paris with my grandnieces, Audrey (almost 13, about which enough said) and Lila (9), and oh, what a treat to see the city of light through their eyes. Of course we did lots of touristy things, first among which was a trip to the top of the Tour Eiffel, full of ooohs and aaahs and gasps, and games of trying to identify sites from that height. A boat ride down the Seine let us see famous buildings from a new perspective, and long walks around our neighborhood in Montmartre (just around the corner from Sacré-Cœur) introduced them to the 18th arrondissement and to street life there. Audio bus tour—check. Portraits at Painters’ Place—check. Chocolate tour—check. Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle—check.
But what I enjoyed most were the art museums. Both girls draw and are interested in art, and they were, of course, most eager to see the Louvre. We made the obligatory climb to see the Mona Lisa (“Oh, but it’s so small! Oh isn’t she beautiful . . . and look at her eyes. . . .”) But what fascinated Audrey most were the Egyptian and Greek antiquities, which we explored for hours, taking notes so that we could do some more investigating when we got back to our apartment. She loved the Caryatides, and the Venus de Milo—and got down on hands and knees to touch some of the original foundation of the building. All the statues and the huge paintings of battle scenes freaked Lila out, however, and she declared she was “scared of museums.” A problem.
Still, we persevered, and convinced her to go with us to see Monet’s water lily paintings at l’Orangerie. Lucky for us we were there on a light day, so we had plenty of time and space to sit and soak up the peace and quiet and beauty of those magnificent paintings. Lila decided that she was no longer scared of museums, and Audrey was, to say the very least, overcome: she went from one huge curved painting to the next, examining brush strokes and color combinations, saying over and over she wished she could stay there forever. We read about Monet’s gift of the gallery and the paintings to the people of France after World War I, a gift of peacefulness and quiet. Audrey said this must have been the “best gift ever.”
The Musée d’Orsay offered other treats—we saw a lot more of Monet as well as other impressionists, and took notes on several Manet paintings that seemed mysterious to us. Later we read about them on Wikipedia and listened to short lectures about them on YouTube.
What struck me then (as it so often does when I am with young people) is how perceptive they are, how intellectually curious, and how eager to open up to new experiences and new ways of looking at the world, as presented to us by so many wonderful artists. Audrey said she thinks all paintings tell stories, and, though the stories can sometimes seem different from viewer to viewer, they also bring people together in sharing them. As we sat holding hands and immersing ourselves in Monet’s “Green Reflections,” I thought how very right she is.
Over the decades, I’ve had opportunities to take students to many artistic events, from exhibitions and lectures to musical performances, plays, and films. These engagements with art enrich their lives and their understanding of the world; if every child in the U.S. could have even two or three such experiences, I am certain they would benefit, both from seeing art and then producing it themselves. Yet our government wants to radically cut funding for the arts in America, even eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts. If you have had experiences like mine with young people and engagements with art (and I know you have!) I also know you will join in doing everything in our power to eliminate these cuts. Please join in supporting the arts in America!
Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford