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Slow Art–Howard Finster’s Youth of Abraham

Howard Finster, Youth of Abraham (detail), 1988. Acrylic on wood. Milwaukee Art Museum. Gift from the collection of Isabelle and Herbert Polacheck. Photo credit John R. Glembin
Howard Finster, Youth of Abraham (detail), 1988. Acrylic on wood. Milwaukee Art Museum. Gift from the collection of Isabelle and Herbert Polacheck. Photo credit John R. Glembin

Howard Finster’s Youth of Abraham (1988) is one of my favorite works in the Museum Collection for use in teaching. I think it is also, slowly, becoming one of my favorite works in the Museum, period. People are often surprised when I tell them how much I am taken with this artwork, and I sometimes get the dreaded comment “It looks like something a child could do.”

When I first decided to teach with Youth of Abraham, I was nervous because it is so driven by spirituality, which can lead to difficult conversations (on top of that, I am not a particularly spiritual person myself). Nevertheless, I decided to challenge myself with it, leading an inquiry-based session with the education department. The session was surprisingly successful, so I later used Youth of Abraham with college education students and found myself in one of the best conversations I’ve ever had about a work of art.

There is just something about this painting.