We've looked at paintings before, but despite the fact that I'm sure my daughter is an artistic genius, she doesn't react with enthusiasm to much of it. Most "great painters" simply don't hold her attention. Dali? The watches all look broken and the ants are icky. Rembrandt? Too boring, and all Mommy does is point at the women and shout, "Look, I'm skinnier than she is!" Lillian chewed on Da Vinci and used the book about Michelangelo to beat her stuffed bear over the head.
So far Georgia O'Keeffe has been the only one to score points. The pretty flowers have garnered some mild toddler approval, and "The Lawrence Tree" actually captured Lill's attention. The painting is a view of the night sky through the branches of a red-trunked tree. When she first saw it, Lillian sat bolt upright in alarm and shrieked, "Octopus!" whereupon I realized it does look like some many-limbed, demonic octopus squirting ink across an alien sky.
"No more Lovecraft at bed time," I vowed. We both had nightmares that night.
So anyway, this particular evening we started with our normal routine. I read her a book -- Schroedinger's Cat Teaches Us Quantum Mechanics. She "read" me a book -- the Cat in the Hat. Since she can't read yet, Lillian made up her own version -- a gripping drama where the Cat is a tiger who goes down to the sea shore, gets pummeled by waves and must go to see our family doctor and receive acupuncture in order to get well again.
Lillian thought about it for a minute and then announced, "The end!" Mommy thought about it for a minute and decided to cut back on Lillian's sugar intake. Finally, though it was time to broaden the child's horizons. I pulled out one of the bargain art books: "Picasso Posters".
Though Picasso has worked with sculpture, ceramics, murals, theatre, poetry and paintings, the book says, "Picasso's activity as a poster designer has largely been overlooked and ignored." I had to agree with author Maria Costantino there. Posters are treated as the embarrassing geeks of the art world. When you walk into a gallery or a museum, where are the kittens hanging from tree branches? The orangutans in three-piece suits? The swim-suit models with the spray-on tans, lolling about on the sand in skimpy bikinis like cosmetically enhanced, emaciated sea lions caught in brightly colored soda six-pack rings?
"It's not right, Lillian," I told my daughter, who was looking suspiciously at the lack of animals in human clothing on the book's cover. "The poster is as much high art as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Pay close attention to Picasso's posters. Let us treat them with the reverence they deserve."
I opened the book to "Women of Algiers", done in Picasso's famous Cubist style. Lillian blinked, then screamed piercingly and hid behind me.
"It's okay, Lill, look, it's just a woman. There's her nose... and there's her, uh..." I frowned at the body part. Move on. "Okay, there's a..." Another unmentionable woman part. I peered at the painting. They were scattered all over the place. In some places, ol' Pablo didn't even bother to paint the rest of the woman. It was like an episode of Baywatch. "Okay, let's look at a different picture." We flipped to one entitled, "Pottery-Flowers-Perfume", and this one, both Vallauris exhibition posters. They featured big smiley faces with little horns -- perhaps the satyr motifs Picasso was so fond of. Lillian peered around my shoulder, screamed piercingly and hid again. "Lill, what's scary about this? Look at the pretty colors!" But it was no go. She flat-out refused to look at any of the other pictures in the book.
"What is Lillian screaming about?" my husband asked, poking his head in the room.
"I don't know. She just freaks out and hides every time I show her one of these Picasso paintings."
"Lillian," he announced with a firm voice, "I feel the same way."
Oh, well. My daughter may not know art, but at least she knows what she doesn't like.
Comments and spine-tingling famous paintings to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.