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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My video entry for the Center Parcs family blogger challenge

A different type of blog this week.  I’ve entered a Center Parcs competition  to produce a 1 minute video showing how our family enjoy the great outdoors.  I’m hoping to win a break at Center Parcs, and thought I’d share my video as I’ve had great fun making it, even if it’s not a winning entry.

The subject choice was easy.  We live near an off-road Sustrans cycle route, and often bike along it at the weekends. At the end is a playground which the kids love.  If we cycle a little further there’s a cafe which I love!

On to the hard part…..  I’ve only ever taken a couple of clips with the video functionality on my phone before, and  I’ve never done any video editing.   It’s taken me a good week to get to grips with the editing, adding the video to a sharing site and getting the link working on my blog.  I gave up on YouTube, as although the rest of the world are able to upload videos of dancing cats I don’t appear to use the right file format, aargh!

I know it’s not perfect, as some of the quality has been lost in the upload and the muzak is a little irritating after you’ve watched it for the 10th time, but without further ado I hope you enjoy my entry for the Center Parcs challenge.

If we do win we don’t really mind which village we visit, although Whinfell is quite a drive from us, so we’d prefer one a little closer!

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Top tips for walking with kids

Before children we used to spend much of our free time walking. We were members of a local club, and every month we’d head to the mountains, exploring Snowdonia or the Lake District. We knew things would change when the kids came along but naively assumed that after a few years they’d be accompanying us on our trips.

boots

How little we knew! As our children have grown, they’ve developed their own likes and dislikes. Walking has never featured strongly on the ‘like’ list, but as I’m keen for the children get out and enjoy the countryside, we’ve worked out ways to keep the whole family happy. Our top tips for walking with children are below, if you have any other suggestions please do leave a comment.

1. Food works wonders

Pack a picnic, take plenty of water and snacks and finish your walk at a tea room. This last suggestion is for my benefit, rather than the kids, but everyone deserves a slice of cake after a walk!

2. Choose child friendly routes

Woods and streams offer paddling, tree climbing, den building, log balancing and stick collecting fun. Long treks through featureless fields or along the edge of main roads should be avoided.

3. Incorporate a challenge

Try geocaching, practise map reading skills or have a race up a hill. Any distraction away from the act of walking works well for us.

4. Know your limits

You’ll know how far your kids can walk, and how fast (or slow) they’re likely to be. On average, adults walk around 3 miles per hour on flat ground but this will reduce substantially if you’re walking with a toddler! Similarly, if you’re heading out into mountainous or moorland areas ensure you are confident in your map reading and route finding abilities.

5. Take a camera

I always enjoy seeing the photographs my daughter takes. Whereas I’m the one taking classic landscape photos she’ll be snapping away at a bug, or more usually, herself whilst pulling a funny face.

6. Plan an expedition

As the children have got older, we’ve been on a couple of  ‘expeditions’ with them and both times they’ve gained a great sense of achievement. We walked up Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales) a couple of years ago.

snowdonia
Misty view from Snowdon

Last year we took them to Black Sail Youth Hostel in the Lake District for an overnight visit, made more exciting because it’s only accessible by foot.

7. Escape routes

When planning your walk, work out how you could shorten it if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or it ends up being too difficult or long for the children.

8. Let the kids plan the walk

I can still vividly remember route planning for my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Whilst our kids aren’t at the stage yet of planning full scale walks, they’re certainly old enough to learn how to use maps, and help with decisions on route choices.

9. Get friendly with nature

Take an I-spy or Usborne nature spotters book with you and see what wildlife you can find. If there are no obvious large animals or birds to identify, look at flowers, mosses or small bugs instead. The Woodland Trust Nature Detectives website is also a fabulous resource with lots of suggestions for activities in the great outdoors.

10.  Get the gear

Plan for the weather and conditions you’ll be walking in. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are great for young children out for a walk in the woods. If you’re taking older kids into more remote areas they’ll need decent waterproofs and walking boots. Remember hats and gloves too!

11. Walk with friends

Your kids will be too busy playing and talking to the other kids to notice that they’re walking as well. As a bonus you’ll also get to spend time with friends.

And lastly…..

12. Don’t mention you’re going for a walk

Just about any other terminology is preferable. If we tell our kids we’re going for a walk they’ll often groan. Tell them you’re going on an adventure instead.

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National Trust membership

Five years ago we signed up to National Trust membership in a car park somewhere in Cornwall. We were swayed by the promise of days out and free car parking. Last year we let it lapse. Did we make the right decision?

We started off with great intentions. During our first year of membership we visited the properties local to us, and took advantage of free parking at a nearby beauty spot.  However, over the years we realised we were forcing ourselves to visit places we wouldn’t normally go, just so that we could benefit from the NT membership.  We’re not that keen on historic houses, so we’d tend to only visit the gardens or surrounding woodland, and quite often this would have free access via public footpaths.

Additionally I can’t help thinking we’ve either grown out of, or are too young, for their target markets. Last week I took advantage of the free NT entry offer and visited The Vyne,  partly to see whether our decision was right.  It was full of families with toddlers, all having a great time. The other visitors appeared to be retired.  Our kids, being at primary school,  still enjoyed themselves but we seemed a bit out of place amongst the other visitors.

So last year we didn’t renew.  I still feel guilty about this.  Primarily because I know the membership goes towards preserving these historic homes and and the countryside. As a lover of the great outdoors I feel almost obliged to support this cause.  But with the family membership now costing almost £100 per year I think it’s the right decision. It’s a luxury we’re going to do without from now.

Maybe we’ll find ourselves strangely drawn to membership again in 20 years time!

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