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When Clyfford Still, Art, and the Young Mind opens on March 11, the late abstract expressionist may face his toughest critics yet: kids. “Beyond making art,” says Nicole Cromartie, the Clyfford Still Museum’s director of education and programs, “very young children are capable of enjoying art in the same way that you and I are.” To ensure they like this particular show, which runs through August 7, the museum collaborated with fledgling aficionados ages six months to eight years old, from seven Front Range primary schools and childcare centers, who helped the staff curate five themed galleries focused on different stages of visual development and aesthetic preference. Read below to discover what you can expect to find as you walk (or crawl) through each.
Gallery 1: High contrast
Rods, the photoreceptor cells in the retina responsible for sight in low light, develop before cones, which are better at distinguishing colors, says Kathy Danko-McGhee, an art education consultant who works with the Clyfford Still Museum. So, for art lovers in their earliest weeks the museum has staged a number of high-contrast works, most of them in black, white, and red, which are easiest for baby eyes to identify.
Gallery 2: Scale
Museums and galleries often hang works too high for children to appreciate, Cromartie says. The second gallery plays on elements of scale and features the 10-foot-tall blue piece from 1951 (Still did not name his paintings), as well as two smaller works hung only three feet off the ground.
Gallery 3: Pattern
Starting at four years old, children begin to display a preference for symmetry and pattern, so it should come as no surprise that the preschoolers consulted for this gallery chose to arrange a series of Still’s abstract drawings in a grid formation.
Gallery 4: Recognizable Imagery
Still’s more representative pieces—including the 1932 oil painting—are a big draw for children around the age of eight, who value realism. But toddlers, who like making up creative stories about the images they see, will engage with this gallery too, Cromartie says.
Gallery 5: Bright Colors
As any toymaker will tell you, a rainbow of high-saturation colors is a feast for young eyes, regardless of gender. By five months of age, infants see a full spectrum. It’s not until two years old that girls begin to prefer pink and boys blue. “[Gendered partiality] really is socially constructed,” Danko-McGhee says. Kids are attracted to intensity of color, not hue.