Even as a museum professional, I sometimes feel challenged to make art exhibitions accessible to my four-year old daughter. You may be surprised, but the current special exhibition, Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) , has been one of her favorite museum exhibitions. How did that happen? When we went to the exhibition, we focused on something she already liked. In our case, my four-year old daughter and I are always ready with our cameras to capture the world around us. I often pass my phone over to her to catch sunsets over Lake Erie, snow on trees, and clouds around Terminal Tower.
I explained to her that the artist  captured scenes that caught his eye, just like she does. As we walked around the exhibition hall, we thought of the experience as a quest to find the places Fu Baoshi had seen. I gave her simple clues, similar the ones below. As she found each work, I asked to tell me some of items she saw.
At each artwork, I told her a little bit more about the pieces. For example, in one work, when traveling by train, Fu Baoshi was struck by the colors of the sunrise over rice fields. The painter often found beauty in surprising places such as planes waiting in the fog at a Soviet airport. Many things we saw were very familiar, like mountains. Other things, like jujube trees were new to both of us. (Thanks to the museum’s wifi and Wikipedia, I was able to find comparison photographs from my smart phone). As Fu Baoshi’s works might be unfamiliar to you, the labels do a great job of offering a little bit more information. Read the label and then paraphrase for your young one.
This holiday season, bring your family to the exhibition to explore the ways that Fu Baoshi translated what he saw into paintings. Take a quest to find the places Fu Baoshi saw. Then, take your camera (or pencils) out into Cleveland to make your own mementos of the world around you.
1. Help your kids find: Yuntai Mountain, 1941. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Handscroll, ink and color on paper; 31 x 123 cm. Nanjing Museum
Give them the clue: History and literature inspire me, such as mountains most storied.
Follow up with these questions: Is this a real place that Fu Baoshi visited? Are you ever inspired to make drawings after reading stories? Have you seen any movies inspired by a story?
Help your kids find: Prague Castle, 1957. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; 105.6 x 61.1 cm. Nanjing Museum.
Give them the clue: I watched Prague so still and painted a castle on a hill.
Follow up with these questions: Is Fu Baoshi close to the castle? Why did he paint it from so far away? What other things did he show other than the castle?
3. Help your kids find: Irkutsk Airport, 1957. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; 59.8 x 102.6 cm. Nanjing Museum
Give them the clue: I couldn’t help but gaze at the airplanes within the haze.
Follow up with these questions: What is the biggest thing in the painting? Why do you think he chose this scene? Do you ever remember driving in the fog?
4. Help your kids find: Spring Colors of Zaoyuan, 1960. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; 50 x 70.5 cm. Nanjing Museum
Give them the clue: Blooming jujube trees in spring—warm weather will soon be in full swing
Follow up with these questions: What season is this? If you were there, would you need to wear a coat? What is the most colorful thing in the scene?
Help your kids find: Approaching Yanbian, 1961. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; 41.7 x 59.2 cm. Nanjing Museum.
Give them the clue: The rice fields at sunrise—the sight amazed my eyes.
Follow up with these questions: What are some of the colors in this painting? Is the artist looking up or down at rice fields? Where is the rice?
6. Help your kids find: Yan’an, 1964. Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965). Horizontal scroll, ink and color on paper; 78.2 x 106.8 cm. Nanjing Museum.
Give them the clue: In the distance, across the mountains and valley ahead, was a pagoda, seen in red.
Follow up with these questions: Is Fu Baoshi close to the pagoda or far away? What are some of the other things in the scene? What is making the pagoda red?
Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art with the Nanjing Museum. On view through January 8, 2012. Full price $8, Senior $6, Student $6 Children 6-17 $4, Children 5 and under free, members free.
-- Seema Rao