Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Art Mom, second grade and Van Gogh's ear

If you're going to be an Art Mom for a group of second graders, and you sense you're losing their attention, don't try to be clever and mention Van Gogh's ear.

Just don't. Even if you feel you're doing it for the greater good. Because soon you will not be giving a presentation on art. You will be giving a presentation on ears.

Trust me. I spoke today at my son's classroom - finishing a program on color and mood that got cut short last week - and brought in a wide variety of art prints to discuss. I thought I was being entertaining. My audience disagreed.

Yawns. Whispers. Giggles. Uh-oh...I needed something to hold their attention.

So I brought out my ace in the hole - Starry Night. Yes! Ooohs and aahhs - who doesn't love Van Gogh's Starry Night? But I took it too far. Talking about the artist, I decided to clear up a teeny, tiny misconception. He didn't cut off his entire ear, I told them - just the bottom part of it. Now I had their attention. Everyone was very interested in art. Or, um, ears.

"Ewwwww!!! Did it hurt? Did it bleed?"
"That story reminds me of getting my ears pierced. But nothing was cut off."
"My catechism teacher ... I have never seen either one of his ears."

I tried to move on. We talked about other artists, from Mary Cassatt to Jean Honore Fragonard. At the end, I held up another beautiful Van Gogh painting, White Roses, and asked the kids how it made them feel. Calm, they said. Happy. Then a boy in the back raised his hand.

"It looks like he painted that slowly," he told me. "Like, maybe, he was thinking about his ear."


  1. I disagree. I think bringing up the ear was the perfect thing to do. As speakers (and writers) we must consider audience first and what is going to captivate second-graders more than a crazy artist whacking off a piece of ear? Well done!

  2. Lol, Jan - Thanks!!!

    I will say that after the program, when we did our little projects ("mood portraits") there did seem to be a renewed enthusiasm for art ...

    Hey, maybe I can just become the shock jock of art moms! : )

  3. I loved this post. Kids say the funniest things - and I think even my son's 4th grade class would love to hear about Van Gogh and his infamous ear!

  4. Kids always seem to enjoy 'grossness' which doesn't diminish the fact that I'll bet they'll remember Van Gogh and his paintings longer than the others you showed them!!

  5. I did feel a lot better when I looked toward the back of the room and saw the teacher calmly eating her snack. I figured if I was doing something really wrong she'd be giving me the "zip it" sign or something!! Let's just hope that a new group of art lovers can continue to clear up that whole Van Gogh ear misconception. PART of an ear. Not the whole thing. Important distinction, right? (Or ... so it seemed yesterday) : )

  6. You caught their attention for sure! And how thought provoking the last comment isperfect. He looks like he was thinking about his ear...