By Leo Lionni
A poor mouse couple lives in a dusty attic where they have great hopes for their only child. When they ask Matthew what he wants to be, however, he is uncertain--until the day his class goes on a field trip to the art museum.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Kate Vigour and Nancy Soudant
There are many philosophical concepts in the book Matthew’s Dream. Some of the more prominent ones are art and aesthetics, inspiration, and judgment. These are topics for which there are many different views, so they encourage fruitful discussion.
One of the philosophical issues the book brings up is the concept of beauty in reference to the art work in the story. How do we come to possess the insights required to decide what is and is not aesthetically beautiful? Because art is so elusive and difficult to define, people have very different concepts of it. Therefore, many of the questions are designed more to get children to explore the idea of what constitutes art.
Many believe that art is an expression of an artist, but others emphasis the viewer’s appreciation of it. Is the artist or the viewer more central to the work? This is an issue that philosophers continue to discuss. In addition, many philosophers have argued that works of art have to be beautiful. Can something that is not aesthetically pleasing still be considered art?
The concept of inspiration comes up after Matthew visits the museum. This set of questions is designed to get children thinking about what inspires someone. Will the same things inspire everyone and if not, why not? Sometimes a particular experience will suddenly enable us to see things differently as it did with Matthew and his corner in the attic. How can something that he saw as junk the day before, suddenly be viewed so differently when it is the exact same stuff? Does this fit the old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?
Another important issue to discuss is the nature of artistic interpretation. Appreciation is often influenced by knowledge. Can we appreciate something if we do not understand it? Can we drop all of our preconceptions and just experience the work itself?
Discussing and the various aspects of what constitutes art allows children to better understand that there is not necessarily a right and wrong with dealing with art. A discussion of these questions allows children to approach and view artistic works in a different way. A trip to a local museum would be a great follow up to this discussion.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Matthew is very impressed when he goes to the art museum for the first time.
When Matthew goes to the museum, he says, “The world is all here.”
Matthew goes to the museum and is inspired to become an artist after looking at all of the art work there.
The book shows several different pieces of art from the museum.
Not all art is realistic.
After visiting the museum Matthew is able to see his dark, dreary corner in the attic in a new way.