In 2014, British artist Jake Chapman famously decried taking children to art galleries, adding that it was a “total waste of time.” In an interview with The Independent, Chapman went as far as to call parents “arrogant” for thinking their children could comprehend the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chapman missed the point. Because while it’s certainly true that children will struggle to understand complex works, this is precisely what makes it such a prime teaching opportunity.
When children don’t understand something, they ask questions…lots of questions. And as any educator knows, this isn’t something to be frowned upon, but rather encouraged.
Better yet, parents don’t need to take their children to expensive museums in order to foster this type of curiosity. Exposing children to small, local galleries has the same effect. In fact, many highly acclaimed art institutions like PNCA host free exhibits that are welcoming to all ages.
Even if an exhibit is open to all ages, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t still be prepared. Many of the works on display may contain nudity or other graphic depictions. However, as Zoe Williams of The Guardian points out, this isn’t necessarily something to shy away from.
In October 2014, Williams took her two young children and their friend Thomas to Tate Britain in open defiance of Jake Chapman’s advice. Thomas, she writes, took a “puckish delight in pointing out everything that either was a naked person or looked like one,” while her son Thurston was “keenly vigilant in case I saw any penises.”
But nudity is a part of life, and exposing children to that in an artistic setting can yield many benefits. For one, it opens up a discussion around nudity as it relates to creative expression rather than just being an object of sexual desire. Furthermore, it teaches children that nakedness is not something to be ashamed of, but rather celebrated. Art galleries can present a great learning opportunity when it comes to this subject.
Of course, these are still highbrow concepts that young minds may not be able to grasp just yet—but that’s okay. As Williams points out, part of the beauty of it is that children are free to take whatever meaning from it they want, even if that means not getting any meaning from it at all.
“They don’t have that adult need to interpret, or be seen to interpret,” writes Williams. “And that gives them more freedom to immerse themselves, or not, as the work takes them.”
Some children will take a liking to art—others won’t. But they won’t know until they’re given the opportunity to explore this realm, which is precisely why parents should take their kids to art galleries.