Thursday - 18 September 2014

Kids in the gallery: yes or no?

04 August 2014Written by Ivan Macquisten

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 what?

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.

Back to top