Can you read this?

For the past few days, Declan has had an insatiable appetite for books. He’ll want to read eight, nine, twelve in a row. Some are stories and others are just picture books that let him identify shapes, animals and emotions or count vegetables and fruits. Every fifth one is, naturally, about space.

But he’s also taken to pulling art books off the shelf. Marc Chagall is a favorite of Dan’s – a fact that is well known to several friends and family members – so we have a number of books in several sizes with reproductions of the work. Declan pulls them off the shelf and brings them to me, usually presenting them with a Vanna White wave.

“Mommy, can we read this?” He asks. “Because this painting is so, so beautiful.”

My mother taught me to read paintings in Manhattan museums, often by standing me in front of one, covering my eyes with her hands, then lifting them and asking me quickly “what do you see first?” We would talk about what the colors, images, shadows and textures might mean, what was happening, the feelings of the beings and objects depicted on the canvas, even which ways the artist’s tools might have been used to create a particular mark.

Every day, Declan’s ability to read a painting is growing exponentially. I’m looking forward to our next visit with his Giga (my mom) at the museum.

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