We've been enjoying the latest in the series of "I Spy" art books by Lucy Mickelthwait, I Spy Colors in Art (Greenwillow, 2007). The concept is simple and elegant: pair an "I Spy" statement ("I spy with my little eye an orange orange") with a painting (John Frederick Peto, The Poor Man's Store) on the facing page. You can extend it all sorts of ways, too: after she finds what I'm spying, Milly asks me to look for something else in each painting; or we'll make up a story about what might happen next. All the while, the kids (Leo likes to play, too) are familiarizing themselves with fine art and figuring out how to join the conversation about it.
Milly had a lot to say on Saturday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We were just trying to escape from the heat at the Arts on Foot festival, but her interest in looking at and talking about particular paintings reminded me that we haven't visited the National Gallery with her, either. At least not since she could talk. We're already planning to visit later this month.
Of course, a visit to the art museum should always end at the museum gift shop, where you can purchase for small change a postcard of the painting (or whatever) you liked best. I have a small collection of museum postcards that tends toward paintings of mothers and daughters; women reading, writing, or doing needlework; 15th c. portraits and Dutch interiors. As Milly starts her own collection of art cards, I'm considering mounting them in a series of simple staple-bound books so we can play "I spy" with paintings that mean something special to her.