Let’s Get Art: Children Look at Contemporary New Zealand Art is an excellent resource for the family who likes to visit art galleries. Although it is Kiwi-centric, its simple messages are translatable to a global analysis of contemporary art.

The DFF Book Club

Long-time readers of this blog know that I like to feature books that we particularly enjoy as a family as part of the DFF Book Club. Once it was a monthly feature, but when we started travelling full-time my book reviews dropped to only a couple a year.

I first discovered Let’s Get Art by Brad Irwin when reading books to the girls in a fabulous new library in the Far North of New Zealand. I’ve never seen a book of this kind before, and immediately I started looking for our own copy.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
John Ward Knox has added original drawings to the photographs that illustrate the text.

Designated a Notable Book of 2009 by the Children’s Literature Foundation of NZ, the book is a collaboration between two of New Zealand’s contemporary artistic notables. Brad Irwin has worked at both the Auckland Art Gallery and the School of Creative and Visual Arts, and John Ward Knox is continuing to produce a wide range of art.

What I like about this book is that it’s vague, it’s ambiguous, it doesn’t provide any clear definition of what each artistic installation is and what they mean. It’s my habit to always read the little side card in the art gallery to try to gain an understanding of what the artist was intending in creating their art, but this book encourages us to think and dream up our own interpretations for each installation.

The book follows four children as they examine different pieces of contemporary art. Together, the children speculate on each piece.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
"It's like at the museum, where you look at insects in drawers and stuff." "Are they real?" "Wow, it's a city of butterflies!" "They're not real. He's cut them out of paper." William, Posy, Tama and Olive had to look really closely at Peter's work to figure it out. They wondered, "Is this what contemporary art is about?"

Let’s Get Art takes the reader through a variety of styles and installations. When the children look at a photo, they realise that art could make them feel strong emotions.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
"It's like she's gone out to dinner and her boyfriend has dumped her. That sucks!" "Look how she's clutching a towel. Something bad's happened!" "She's intense!" "Maybe somebody died?"

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
An oversized installation emphasises the idea that art doesn't have to be something that hangs on a wall.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
The children vocalise different perspectives on each piece. Some like the artworks, others don't.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
The children ask questions and the narrator refuses to answer them. "Is this what contemporary art is about?" they wonder.

Let's Get Art by Brad Irwin
When the children review what they've seen, they realise that contemporary art is about using a variety of media, ideas, feelings, opinions and reactions.

This isn’t a book that will become a read-aloud favourite. However, it’s an excellent resource for anyone who wants to stimulate discussions about contemporary art. We’ve read it recently as we’re planning on visiting local art galleries in the coming weeks, and this provides a good foundation for children to understand the emotional power that can be conveyed through art.

If you want to get a copy of Let’s Get Art, it’s a bit difficult as the book is out of print. Local Kiwis will probably be able to access the book through their library system — New Zealand libraries are very good at stocking books by local authors. The University Bookshop in Canterbury and Boomerang Books may or may not have a copy in stock. Otherwise, keep a hopeful eye on Trade Me or contact your long-lost relatives in New Zealand to ask them to enquire in local bookshops. Sorry, I can’t be more help, I appear to have bought the last available copy in Auckland!