COMMENT - Are children just an irritating distraction to the serious business of appreciating art in a museum or gallery? Is it time to turn back the tide and put adult appreciation front and centre? As the father of two, Antiques Trade Gazette Editor Ivan Macquisten speaks from experience.
Is taking children to art galleries a waste of time, as artist
Jake Chapman reportedly believes?
Undoubtedly, sometimes the answer is yes, like when I tried to
drag my two - both highly creative and pretty talented artists
themselves - around the Watts Gallery in Compton, one of my own
favourite repositories of art. "Not more of that dark stuff," my
12-year-old son wailed.
On the other hand, they both loved Heaven in a Hell of
War, the display of Stanley Spencer's panels and associated
work from the Sandham Memorial
Chapel, at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.
Here they found something they could relate to: the simple,
achingly human figures; the humour and emotional impact in much of
Spencer's composition, depicting humble domestic scenes as a
backdrop to the drama of war; the wealth of detail; the colour and
light; the realisation that impressive draughtsmanship does not
necessarily mean absolute realism.
I wouldn't say that they understood everything Spencer was
getting at… I wouldn't say anyone who has visited the chapel itself
(just re-opened) and seen the complete work in all its glory has a
fully rounded picture of the artist's intentions here. But so
Certainly, there's a hint of Spencer's influence in some of my
daughter's GCSE portfolio now. She loved his graphic quality and
the sense of both movement and stillness in some of the memorial
chapel scenes. And if it is mere scraps of memory inspired by
Spencer and others that imbue their approach to painting or art
appreciation in future, then that's good enough for me.
You might be better off not taking adults to art galleries on
occasion. Be honest: how often do you see really good street art
rather than the turgid, derivative nonsense peddled by so many? Yet
my kids love a lot of it because of the imagery, colour and
branding that much of it is built on.
Age and experience is not necessarily the best qualification for
appreciating art. A little unadulterated (literally) wonder can be
just the ticket here and there. And it's not just the young who can
have their eyes unexpectedly opened to something new. During a
recent trip to Manchester Art
Gallery, I found myself standing in front of the marvel that is
Grayson Perry's tapestry series The Vanity of Small
Differences. It looks OK on the internet; it takes your breath
away standing in front of it.
So yes, take your children - and your parents - to art galleries
and be prepared for thrills and disappointment in equal measure.
But one rider: forget the quizzes and colouring sheets they hand
out to children at the entrance, they just get between them and the
art. Instead, ask them to find a picture or piece of sculpture they
really like and get them to tell you why it appeals to them. It's a
great game, children love to be asked their opinion and to be taken
seriously and, you never know, you might learn something about the
art on display from them.
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.