Should children visit art galleries?

Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman brothers, courted controversy this week by suggesting that children shouldn’t visit art galleries. In an interview with The Independent he stated “taking children to art galleries was a total waste of time”.

His comments are hardly surprising given the Chapman brothers have a certain reputation to uphold. Their art consists of delightful pieces such as mannequins of children with genitalia instead of faces and decaying corpses. Although he forgot to mention one of their previous shows; a macabre art exhibition for children and their families. Accompanied by a £5 colouring book.

I’m sure his aim was to provoke the middle classes and generate publicity. Yet when I read the comments associated with the various online articles he’s not alone in suggesting that children should stay out of art galleries.

Nobody would ever suggest children shouldn’t visit libraries because they’re too young to appreciate Shakespeare. Yet art galleries are generally the preserve of the more mature. Kids have their own spaces in libraries and shelves of books dedicated to them, but how many art galleries really go out of their way to attract children? And should they?

In Jake Chapman’s defence, I can see where he’s coming from. I don’t generally take my kids to art galleries yet we went to the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Museum last week. This wasn’t because I wanted to further their knowledge of art. It’s just because it had great reviews and I selfishly wanted to see it.

Chapman could have used my children to demonstrate his points perfectly. Within 5 minutes of entering the exhibition my youngest was bored, leaning up against one of the walls asking how much longer he had to be there.

Only one of the rooms grasped his attention, namely that of the Blue Nudes. Nothing to do with the art works of course; anything with the word ‘nude’ in it will have my 9 year old son sniggering.

So what do children gain from visiting art galleries?

I saw another family at the Matisse exhibition. A family whose kids who were carefully drawing some of the art works in their sketch pads. No doubt they would get the scissors out when they got home and start creating paper cut outs. Whereas mine would probably be outside having a water balloon fight. It bought home to me that every family is different. Some children will be inspired by visiting art galleries; they will become the artists and art lovers of the future. We cannot deny them this inspiration.

This brings me nicely on to another point that Chapman made. Namely that it would be insulting to stand a child in front of a Jackson Pollock artwork. He doesn’t think children understand the significance of it. Personally I don’t either, but I’m not sure that’s anything to do with my age.

The arts can be appreciated on many levels, there is no need to be over complicate. I love reading but hated Shakespeare at school. I couldn’t stand the in-depth analysis of each and every line in his plays. It took away my enjoyment. Yet I’d happily go and watch one of his plays nowadays. Similarly, is there anything wrong with just looking at an art work and enjoying it without knowing, for example, what a specific shade of blue indicates?

I’ll leave you with this. The item that has pride of place on my son’s bedroom wall is a Jackson Pollock inspired painting that he created for a school project.

art We looked at some of his paintings online (a visit to an American art gallery being outside of our budget) and watched a film for background information before he started his creation. Did this lead to his greater enjoyment of Pollock’s paintings? No, but he sure had fun dripping paint on his canvas!

So what do you think? Should kids visit art galleries?

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25 thoughts on “Should children visit art galleries?”

  1. I agree – that comment was probably made for a bit of cheap publicity. I love going to art galleries, the theatre and the library – but even as a grown-up if what is there fails to engage me, I will get bored. Children are no different. They should certainly be encouraged to attend art galleries – it’s a way of expanding their cultural horizons. They might not always like what’s there – it’s so subjective. It’s a way of helping them formulate their own thoughts and ideas. I agree that over-complication and over-analysis takes the fun out of things. Sometimes art just needs to be enjoyed for its own sake. Love the Pollock-inspired artwork #MMWBH

    1. Thanks Leigh. You’re right – adults need to be engaged just as much as the children. I get bored too if the exhibition doesn’t interest me. My kids enjoyed themselves when we walked around Brick Lane looking at street art; not exactly highbrow but they loved the whole experience.

  2. I think children should definitely visit art galleries, they have as much right to be there as the adults do. The one caveat I would add (and we’ve taken our two to a fair few exhibitions and just pottering round the galleries since they were tiny) is that as parents you have to go with realistic expectations, and know that if they’re just not into it, one of you will be sat on the floor with the colouring books while the other looks at the pictures and then tag team – or just take them out. I’ll admit we’ve done the sketchbook trick a few times with varying degrees of success and some of the best galleries have children’s trails, or we just ask them to choose their favourite and ask why. I’ll hop off my soapbox now but not without saying that your son’s Jackson Pollock is gorgeous, and on the one occasion that I’ve seen a real Jackson Pollock I had a 7 month old Kitty in the sling with me and she was utterly captivated (and kept reaching out to want to touch it – who says Jackson Pollock isn’t for babies!)

    1. Thanks Carie. My kids are of the age (9 and 11) where they make their likes & dislikes clear so I’m rather envious that you can still use the colouring book decoy. I’ll let my son know you like the Pollock imitation, he was very proud of it!

  3. I don’t think it should be forced on them, but they should absolutely have the opportunity to be introduced to art to see if it is something they have an affinity with. My oldest child (who has just finished year 1) is a sponge for new information and the works of van Gogh and Kandinsky have really caught his imagination. Even now, several months after covering them in class, he still occasionally sketched out Starry Night. And last summer we went to a random pizza restaurant in Cornwall and as we walked in he spotted a print on the wall and said “Dad, that looks like Kandinsky.” He was right, and he proceeded to talk my ears off for 10 minutes about it. Who would in their right mind would want to deny a child the opportunity to express himself like that?

    1. Wow that’s pretty amazing! My son tends to be like that with music – he’ll randomly hear something and then proceed to tell me the lesson at school when they learnt all about it. He knows more than me about some pieces.

  4. I certainly don’t agree with keeping children out of art galleries. Even if they don’t appreciate them, learning opportunities are everywhere. It’s really up to the parents to decide, and those comments are just uncalled for. #sharewithme

  5. We took Austin to the Picasso Museum in Malaga when he was 3, and he absolutely loved it – he was enthralled. Ok, it’s a small collection, but he’s the sort of boy who normally finds it hard to sit still for more than 10 minutes….you’re right, families come in all different kinds, and these remarks were clearly intended to court controversy. I’m so impressed by your son’s artwork – rivals the real thing!

    1. I think that small collections are preferable. Much more manageable and easier to keep your concentration (talking about me now, not the kids).

  6. I think children should be taken to art galleries. They will decide what they like and dislike, and, as you said, some children will love them, some hate them. Plus, galleries are actively encouraging children with exhibitions about Julia Donaldson and Quentin Blake, so why not?

    #MMWBH

  7. It really is a fine line between boring them to death and or having them throw tantrums ruining others enjoyment or not sharing them and they may be the type of kids that love paintings and want to learn more. I think they should be more kid friendly and have sections that inspire younger children for sure. Great idea. Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

    1. Thanks Jenny. It’s even trickier when you have one kid that quite enjoys looking at things, and another one that just wants to be outside kicking a ball around.

  8. I’m planning to take my children with me to an art gallery today so I read your post with great interest! I agree with other comments that the remarks were made to the media in order to provoke a response – and they certainly won’t deter my little family’s outing today 🙂 I enjoyed your own, very balanced take on the subject matter. #PoCoLo

  9. I’m definitely pro kids in galleries. As you point out, everyone is different and some children will be bored and some will love it, but if they don’t go how will they ever know if art is going to grab them? I’ve always taken my boys to galleries and try and make it fun by looking for something specific and actively getting them involved. It’s also important not to expect too much and not stay too long. Better to leave having seen only a few works of art that capture the child’s imagination than hours later, tired, bored, hungry and hating galleries! #PoCoLo

    1. Thanks Phoebe, completely agree. Better to do things in short bursts rather than spending an entire day trying to see everything.

    1. I’m the same – although I do wonder if my lack of personal knowledge comes across to the kids, hence the reason why they don’t enjoy it so much.

  10. I think that kids should definitely be encouraged to take an interest in culture, and that for me includes going to art galleries. If they really don’t like it, then maybe it’s time to try something else. However, I think it’d be a real shame to exclude people from art galleries based on age when some kids will probably really enjoy visiting them.

  11. I think it depends on the kids (and their ages)… maybe take them to a family friendly smaller gallery first and if you know they are interested then you can take them to bigger, more serious ones. Some children just won’t be interested but others will love it

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