“Twelve!” “Thirty-six!” “Sixteen!” “Fifty-eight!”

Apparently the five year olds were having a much harder time determining my age than I’d thought. I wasn’t really sure if they were joking.

“Okay, how old do you really think I am?”

“Thirteen,” said one very serious looking boy, importantly. He was a full two years older than his colleagues, so they respected his judgement and nodded their heads in agreement, except for one five year old – Haley – who was having trouble keeping her body still enough to remain on her chair.

“Sixty-five!” she yelled.

“A little bit younger than that,” I said, pretending to be offended.

“Sixty-eight!” she yelled again, laughing so hard that she slipped under the table.

Her older sister, Katie, gave her an admonishing look. “Haley! When you’re in kindergarten, the teacher will not put up with this kind of behavior!” although she was having a hard time suppressing a grin herself. Then Katie turned to me and said, “I’m sorry about this,” and shook her head with an attempt at exasperation. “Haley, he’s thirteen.”

At this point I was actually sort of offended. But as I went through the other tables of children and asked how old they thought I was, I got a very diverse range of answers. The children were sure I must be at least five or six years older than them, and generally agreed that I was younger than sixty, but weren’t exactly sure where quite to place me. Their answers were usually only correct because of random guessing. Actually, it seemed that they’d guess any age except for 21. When they’d say something like, “eleven,” I’d ask them, “how old do you think you have to be to grow a beard?” The general consensus was around nine to ten.

When I was in Italy, I met some kids that started around ten months.

I knew that after all of my practice, I really wouldn’t be able to gage how successful my tour plans would been until I interacted with actual children. And within ten minutes of meeting some, I realized I honestly have no idea what is going on in their heads. During the pre-tour session, I went around asking different tables of kids what their favorite piece of art was, or what was a famous piece of art that they knew about.

The seven year old, with a cool, urbane look, said “Picasso.”

“Oh yeah, what by Picasso?” I asked. This seemed to confuse him. Apparently he was unsure if Picasso was a piece of art, or a style, or what really. It was just art-related. It was interesting to hear their ideas, because other than finger painting, they really didn’t have a conception of what art actually was. Some of the other answers included:

“A painting!” “Dora the Explorer!” “A sign!” “Paint!” “A painting!” “Star Wars!” “Cartoons!”

I was glad that I heard cartoons, because I had picked my first piece on the tour for that very reason. The piece I had chosen was Look Mickey by Roy Lichtenstein. There are all sorts of sophisticated, scholarly things you can say about it, but what I was really aiming for was some recognition of the characters. Hopefully, it’d be an nice, deceptive way to ease into the idea of art.

The painting worked out very well because the kids were able to identify the subjects immediately (“That’s Mickey!” “That’s McDonald Duck!” – real quotes). From there, it was a very simple matter of luring out information that they already had a grasp of. It didn’t take long for them to understand that we construct images with color, lines, and shapes, and that we can sometimes recognize things because of patterns (the waves in the back). I was honestly really surprised about how much they figured out – how they knew it was a dock, that they were fishing, that shapes had been made out of lines. I barely had to draw it out of them.

As the rest of the tour continued, I found them to be shockingly astute, absorbing and processing everything that we were saying at almost lightning speed, considering the amount of information that they actually know. They began to recognize concepts not only literally, but also in a sort of abstract way. Even though many of them apparently didn’t know the word “pattern” at the beginning of the tour, one girl pointed out that the fact that my partner, Kat, and I had been switching off on talking about the works was a pattern as well.

The best parts of the tour were their bizarre stories and interpretations, with minds as open and creative as I have really ever seen. My favorite moment was when one kid, whose head was so much larger than his skinny body that I was worrying it would topple off at any moment, described a painting, “This is a cave and one time me and my sister … [unintelligible] … and then because … [unintelligible] … the girls… it wasn’t even scawy! [scary],” and then laughed. I really can’t wait to hear more stories like that.

That was tour number one, with five year olds. I was so floored and confused by them. They were able to grasp some semi-abstract concepts quickly and openly, and yet they honestly had no idea what age I was. I guess that really points to the fact that lack of experience doesn’t not equate to lack of intelligence. I’m realizing now that I’ll probably have to completely redesign the tour for every age group. I have a group of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders next, and I am not sure how differently to approach them. Well, it’s a matter of trial and error. I just hope 4th graders don’t think I’m thirteen.

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