Kate’s just another mom. She spends the nights preparing for the next day and the mornings negotiating wardrobe choices with her twin 4-year-olds. Living in the Big Apple offers plenty of child friendly distractions so she and her twins head out to catch a subway or a bus for a day out in the city. Destination? The latest art gallery installation! Not your typical first choice for child friendly activity in New York City, right? At just four years old, her twins probably have more exposure to art than the average adult! Don’t believe me? Just check out her Instagram, Little Twins Big Apple (@LittleTwins_BigApple).
Being a child of an artist and an art teacher herself, Kate has always wanted to be an artist when she grew up. Plans changed slightly (she is now a creative producer and screenwriter in independent film) however her love and appreciation for visual arts has remained. We had the lucky opportunity to ask Kate, an artist herself, about her experience raising twins in the world of art!
How did you come up with this idea of Little Twins Big Apple? How did your project take off on Instagram?
I was visiting galleries and museums regularly before the kids were born, but after their arrival, I felt like my ability to go out and experience everything NYC has to offer was over. Maneuvering the city with kids is challenging, and people aren’t always excited when you bring children into a typically more adult-driven space. I started to feel a bit isolated for several months and my own creativity took a major hit, so I decided I needed to figure out how to get back to the museums and galleries, regardless of the added difficulty of bringing kids along.
Then I saw it not only as a chance for me to get back to doing something I love, but also as an opportunity to introduce my children to the creativity of others, and an opportunity for them to learn what we call “appropriate gallery behavior.” It became a great way for us to spend time together while also educating them through exposure to so many different kinds of art. I would take pictures of our adventures and share them on my private Instagram account. After friends encouraged me to create a public account for these photos, I was very hesitant – I neither wanted to invade the privacy of my kids nor make our fun pastime feel like work. I decided to try it out, but only as long as it remained fun for both them and me!
I specifically opted to have the twins wear sunglasses in all our photos and photograph them from behind as often as possible to allow them some anonymity, and that has worked well for us. The name of our account, Little Twins Big Apple, came from my feeling that these little people can and should be able to move around in the “bigger” or more mature spaces this incredible city has to offer. When we let children see and experience more complex things, their minds expand and their ideas get bigger to match. We often underestimate kids!
Our account, Little Twins Big Apple, has grown thanks to several large brands, influencers, galleries, and artists sharing our photos on their own accounts here and there. We’ve also had a couple media outlets highlight us and widen our exposure that way. People tend to respond positively to the twins’ imaginative enthusiasm and natural curiosity, especially around subjects that we usually hear about from adults.
What does a typical day look like for you when you plan to visit an art gallery?
We usually decide where we’ll go the day prior. I’ll show the twins photos online of a few options of current shows and let them choose what looks most interesting to them. Once we know where we’re going, I pack up their backpacks with snacks and supplies the night before. In the morning we bargain about what they’re to wear, since one of my twins is quite particular about wardrobe. Then we head out by subway or bus to our gallery, pop-up, or street mural of choice.
After arriving, I try to let the kids explore the art and see what seems to draw their attention. We’ll chat a little bit about what they think about what they’re seeing. Then we take some photos. They’ve come to really dislike sitting still for the photos, so I again have to bargain with them a bit. The most motivating deal we usually strike is that once they’ve posed for the photos, it’s their turn to take pictures of me. It’s only fair! They choose the artwork I am to pose with, direct me on how to stand, and snap away. I always wish I had a second camera to capture the behind-the-scenes of them photographing me. They take it very seriously! After our gallery visit, we usually head to a playground to eat some lunch and run around and just be kids.
In reference to the captions of the twins’ conversations, do you continue the conversations beyond their thoughts? As they get older, do you find that they are able to draw out themes between different artists (as appropriate for their age)?
The captions of the twins’ conversations sometimes come from what they say in the moment, right in front of the artwork; but most of my energy at a gallery is spent making sure they’re not being too wild, and trying to capture photos of them between their wiggles. So, more often their quotes come from conversations we have hours or even days after we’ve been to a show, when we’re looking through unposted photos of our recent adventures together. That’s when they usually engage in some funny and even profound conversations with one another about the work. They do often say more than what I quote, since I prefer to keep our captions pretty concise, but they are also only four and like typical kids their age, they are pretty quick to move onto the next thing.
When we look at new artwork, they do often express comparisons between what we’re seeing and anything we’ve seen in the past that is similar in some way. They ask me all sorts of questions about the artists and wonder about the stories behind their work and how they create it. They also often associate the artwork they see with the gallery in which they’ve seen it, recalling shows they’ve seen in that same space months and even years prior. There’s no question, experiencing visual art in person makes a lasting impression on kids.
How has art influenced the twins in their development and growth?
How has art influenced the way you capture your children’s childhood? (The pictures you post on Instagram can be considered art as well – absolutely gorgeous!)
It has been really fun to watch how exposure to art has influenced the twins. Like pretty much anything going on in a kid’s life, you see it come out in their play. They will often play “gallery” and arrange their toys or even their clothes in a particular way in our apartment and claim it as their art. The Twins take turns being the “artist” while the other is the “guard,” and I am always the “gallery visitor” coming to admire their work.
They have also become very observant while we’re out in the city and love to be the first to point out street art as we come across it. Even when we’re just out on errands unrelated to our art hunting, they’ll find something they’d like to pose in front of and ask me to take a photo – we even went through a year-long stage of taking photos in front of every fire hydrant we came across!
But my favorite part of what these art outings and this account has done for them is that it has given them the opportunity to meet and discuss art with the artists and curators themselves. We have had a few of them reach out to us and arrange meet-ups at their shows and it has been an amazingly enriching experience for us all. The twins love asking questions of the artists and getting to know them personally, beyond just their artwork. We have made some great new friends this way.
The effect of running this account on how I capture the twins’ childhood was actually another reason I finally decided to start the account in the first place. I was feeling the need to stretch myself a bit more creatively without it coming at the expense of meaningful time with the kids. I knew if I had a public account, I would feel more motivated to produce better photos than the more casual snapshots of my personal account. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of finding interesting angles and gleaning or composing a succinct caption that hints at the broader meaning of the art we see. I’m also grateful for the documentation I now have of so many of our adventures and outings.
As a mom, what advice would you give to other parents on how to introduce art to their children? Is there a ‘right’ way to read/understand art and/or an artist’s intention?
My advice to parents wanting to introduce art to their kids is simply to find a way to give them in-person experiences with artwork as often as you can. Since being in a quiet museum or gallery space with incredibly expensive and fragile artwork can been challenging for kids, I always recommend having clear discussions before each visit on how to behave in that setting and why. Even with our gallery visits occurring weekly, we have our “appropriate gallery behavior” conversation every single time. We pause outside the doors and rehash our rules and the reasons behind them.
I also recommend finding ways for the kids to feel some sense of ownership or initiative throughout the experience. Choosing where to go or what to see first, being the “leader” on our route through the gallery space, getting the chance to take their own photos of artwork they like, and creating their own art afterward inspired by what they see – these are ways I’ve found the twins engage more with the work and have more fun while doing it. Keeping your expectations realistic for what a gallery or museum visit will be with kids is also key to having a good experience. They naturally have shorter attention spans or don’t respond to the same artwork we might want to spend time on. If there is a show, I personally want to immerse myself in, I know I need to visit it separately, without the kids in tow.
My final tips for introducing kids to art are to make sure you have plenty of snacks before and after (art viewing requires fuel!) and to pair your art experience with another more active, child-centric activity where they’re allowed to run around, be loud, and get dirty. As far as how to read or understand art, my own, untrained philosophy is to experience the work without any context first, then to read whatever is available about the artist’s intention, and view it again with that in mind.
I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to view art, though – to me, any piece of art is a jumping off point for ideas and feelings will vary greatly from viewer to viewer. I have definitely found that my appreciation for a work might completely shift once I’ve learned more about it, usually enhancing the effect it has on me, but it doesn’t have to dictate our experience entirely.
Where do you see this project going as the twins become older? What is your vision for Little Twins Big Apple?
I started this account without any major expectations and with the intention to just continue to do it as long as it remains fun for us all. With the twins in preschool now, we have less time for gallery visits, so we’ve already had to slow the pace of our account a bit, especially since going to see art is not always their first choice for their days off of school. I would love to continue to share their responses to artwork as their thoughts become more complex and articulate, and to continue to encourage parents to expose their kids to as much creativity as they can, but my plan is to follow the twins’ lead and allow our account to grow and change organically.
Follow Kate’s twins, Little Twins Big Apple on instagram at @littletwins_bigapple