Arnold’s Art Museum teaches children the fun side of art history

Arnold's Art Museum by Catherine Ingram and Jim Stoten

Arnold's Art Museum by Catherine Ingram and Jim Stoten - Credit: Archant

From Picasso to Pollock and Duchamp to Duane Hanson, Catherine Ingram makes art history accessible, she tells BRIDGET GALTON

Arnold's Art Museum

Arnold's Art Museum - Credit: Archant

A tin of poo, a cracked bowl, a Renaissance masterpiece and a urinal feature in a picture book aimed at introducing children to art.

Arnold’s Extraordinary Art Museum (Laurence King £12.95) by Old Street-based art historian Catherine Ingram also features a Jackson Pollock painting, a ballet costume and Picasso’s The Bull fashioned from a bicycle seat and handles.

Arnold takes his friends on an underground tour of his art collection one summer’s day during the long school holidays in the book aimed at ages seven and up.

“I was thinking of doing a children’s book and rather than a dry art history lecture I thought it would be cool to have characters so you can have different responses to the art,” Ingram says.

Arnold's Art Museum. Illustration by Jim Stoten

Arnold's Art Museum. Illustration by Jim Stoten - Credit: Archant

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“I really love going to art collectors and seeing their passion for their pieces. Kids love collecting things too. It gives shy, nerdy kids a chance to socialise and show their special things.”

Billed as “an irreverent introduction to the world of art” Hackney illustrator Jim Stoten’s colourful images show Arnold showing his friends Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista – a tin containing the artists’ poo, Marchel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain made from an upended urinal, the Ashmolean’s cracked Narcissus bulb bowl from China’s Song dynasty and Bellini’s The Madonna of the Meadow.

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Ingram, who studied at Glasgow and Oxford University and The Courtauld is also behind a book series on artists including This is Dali and This is Warhol which use eyecatching illustrations to make art history “more visual and less text heavy”.

“I wanted to make art history accessible and fun,” adds Ingram.

“Looking at a rarified object, the thing that has been lost through time is often the pop culture. There is something magic when you walk into the artist’s world, it’s about getting back to the excitement rather than it being something remote.

“I wanted to show visually the world these artists were working in. Andy Warhol lived with 26 cats and his mum in the basement. It’s a wonderful way to enter that world before going into the art.”

Mum to Sam, 12, and Lulu, 15, Ingram is dead against the way many galleries often install interactive works that cannot be touched.

“It often destroys what the art message is. Having kids really brings you back to a very different response to art that’s way more fun.

“The emotional response that kids have, we lose and can learn from. As adults we are afraid to say of a piece of art in a gallery ‘I don’t like that, I think it’s crap’ but children are comfortable to say what they want and will just point to it and say ‘that’s a broken pot’.

The inclusion of a work by Pollock she says was to show “art can be messy and playful and is not always perfect”.

She hopes young readers will enjoy it and adds: “I don’t mind if they don’t even want to go to a gallery. I wanted to tell a story and to share my love of art and let kids see it can be fun.”

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