It was a week of ludicrous statements in the press last week. Artist Jake Chapman said that he doesn’t believe parents should take their children to art galleries because children can’t appreciate the art yet – being, as they are, “not yet fully human.” It’s obvious he’s just saying this for attention and is perhaps easily dismissed except… An interview this weekend in the Guardian with Gilbert and George mentioned that they weren’t necessarily in favour of free art galleries because if 95% of people who are in there wouldn’t pay for it, what do they gain?
Really? I know there are frequent references to artists being as out of touch as politicians but really, this dismissing of most of the public as being unworthy is a little tiresome. (Especially as both lots receive an awful lot of public money – if you don’t want us there, I suggest you give it back.)
And so we come to politicians. The new Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, started her tenure by saying that she will be tackling extremism in nurseries and ensuring that they teach British values. There is no evidence that nurseries are actually teaching extremism to children but don’t let that get in the way of a bold statement. Her ideas of British values included sharing, making the best of things (such as an incompetent government) and some other stuff that many people might just define as values or irritating character traits.
When E wasn’t at her potentially dangerous nursery last week, I took her to Nottingham Castle last week because I wanted to see the WWI exhibition in there. I wasn’t expecting E to be at all engaged with the exhibits and she wasn’t. We spent a short amount of time in the galleries, I checked out a few of the stories and then we made her a medal to wear around her neck. She loves it.
Months back we took her to a Quentin Blake exhibition at Harley Gallery, again because I wanted to see it. That one, she liked – I pointed at the children and the details in the pictures and she looked at them with interest. And then we went and ate a sausage. She will go to several art exhibitions before she starts school and onwards until she goes out without me, at which point she can do what she likes.
I think I want her to be used to seeing these places as somewhere which is welcoming to her and to all. These are public spaces, art is our art – why else is there always such an outcry when a member of the minor aristocracy wants to sell a painting? I see galleries as much of a public space as libraries or parks. Of course I want to take E there, she shouldn’t be intimidated by any of those places. They’re also a useful place for her to learn that she can’t grab everything or touch everything, that there are boundaries and places she should respect. In the Lakeside Gallery the other day I had trouble keeping her away from an exhibition of a chair – she knew it was a chair and wanted to sit on it. But she’s still little and she’ll learn.
Now, I’m pretty terrible at walking round galleries – I snort at the captions, glance vaguely at most of the pictures and sit down at the end and wait for S who is much more contemplative. (Note: galleries without seats are bloody rubbish. Yes, Nottingham Contemporary, I’m talking about you.) But I do like going in them on a regular basis – to sit, to find somewhere with an alternative viewpoint in which to scribble a few things, to seek out art that actually does something to me. And most galleries are much more family-friendly than Jake Chapman and provide all sorts of things to do to engage children with the exhibits.
I don’t expect E to necessarily see this as the inspiration she needs to become an artist. She likes painting, I admit, but she also likes peas. And stickers. And walking in the fountains in the Square. And going down slides. But surely we can all agree that if she can sit and take a moment to look at a depiction of something, if at some point she is engaged with a picture or a representation of someone’s thoughts, if she can see those things in a building which welcomes her and provides her with a moment’s peace, surely that’s a valuable lesson right there?
E is reading: If You’re Happy and you Know it Yes the song. In a book. Free from Bookstart. E has started getting really into songs, as you’ll know if you read this blog last week. This one has actions including wiggling your hips. E and S doing this together is incredibly funny – S looks like a Geography teacher dancing at the school disco and E’s enthusiasm for the wiggling is merely infectious. She has a crazy grin while she does it.
I am reading: Elizabeth Taylor – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont I’d heard of Elizabeth Taylor the author before but not read her. This is a Virago modern classic so I had great hopes and wasn’t disappointed. What a great book! Bitchy, funny, and very touching, this is the story of one elderly lady who retires to a small hotel in London and the other well to do but not that well to do inhabitants she encounters there. She combats her loneliness and fear of being pitied by befriending an impoverished young writer and so an unlikely friendship is born. Excellent stuff. Must read more.