Saturday, 8 December 2012


I started working as a volunteer with the education program of the National Gallery of Canada. We received a good training and much help from the staff of the Education department of the Museum.

I went with some old time Museum volunteers to my first school to see how this is done, much trepidation wondering what are schools like these days in Canada. Needless to say they are nothing like when I was in school 50 years ago. Schoolrooms look like a playground with lots of colours and material for the students to interact with, some classes have a computer on each desk. So the task is to prepare carefully all the material and make the presentation as interesting as possible and hope that the kids will be engage and find the presentation interesting. The teachers also have a role to play, that is if they are interested, this is not always the case.

National Gallery of Canada on Nepean Point.

Inside the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Canada looking at Parliament on the hill across from the Rideau Canal.

The presentation is in several parts, first introducing myself and who I am, secondly, speak of the Museum, ask if the students have been or heard of it. Luckily so far the groups I spoke too most if not all the kids had been to the museum. I also say a few words on the Artissimo program which is dedicated to kids from 5 to 11 years of age and introduces them to art with a mixture of adventure, treasure hunt which is fun and easy. Finally I make my presentation by asking them questions on the art work presented and on what they think of it. That can be a problem, some students will not answer or participate, others want to participate and have all the answers, but I find that thinking about what you look at is not always easy for them. A painting or a sculpture is not always giving away all its secrets and it requires some observation, some critical thinking. This is where students have the most problems,
thinking and critical thoughts are not their strong points. I wonder if this is the phenomenon of what is called Snowplow parents, this expression comes from the fact that parents today will do everything for the kids so they do not have to think for themselves.

I also find that children are not terribly aware of their surroundings or geography or history or time periods. They cannot understand anything outside of their immediate world and time period. Now so far I have only done French Immersion schools in Ottawa but I am schedule to speak at French school in Quebec on the other side of the river in Gatineau. I was told that I would find that the students in Quebec are very different and much more engaged and aware. It could also be a factor of language, the vocabulary of the English student in French Immersion program is not as developed as that of a native French speaking student. I will have to wait and see what I discover.

My first presentation on my own was a series of 3 portraits, one by Tintoretto, one by William Breczy and one by the American artist of Pop Art fame Wayne Thiebaud. The students loved the painting by Thiebaud, it is closer to them in time period and it is Pop Art, so easier to digest.

I have now decided to change my presentation and go for representational painting, I have one of the Montmorency Falls near Quebec City in the winter of 1815, another of the Port of Hamburg, an allegory on Canada and one painting by Simon Vouet, the Fortune teller, because of the subject matter and action in the tableau. Vouet sought his inspiration from Caravaggio. Will see what happens and how it is received by the students.

It is hard work and I am usually very tired afterwards but it is great fun.



  1. The kids might respond well to paintings containing kids about their own age too? It might help them to "identify" with the subject matter across the chasm of space and time. How old are the kids in these classrooms?

    1. The children program is for students from grade 1 to 6, so they are between 6 and 12 yrs of age. I concentrate on grades 5 and 6. The program is of course adapted to the age groups, younger children per example respond well to abstract art and forms and colours.

  2. I'd love to be there to see you at work

  3. Tintoretto! I haven't heard that name since college art appreciation class

  4. I sounds really interesting; for both you and the students