Museum Babies

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What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw (from The Painter’s Keys)

Art museums are increasingly working to draw in children. New programs for children are springing up everywhere in museums. The museums are relaxing behavior standards in this effort. Where once a museum was a place of refuge where anyone could spend time in thoughtful contemplation of art has now become a refuge for the tired parent to dump the kids. How many children are able to contemplate art? Children are unquestionably creative and curious but is an art museum a good place to encourage this?

In an article for The Scotsman (through Artsjournal.com), Tiffany Jenkins discusses the drawbacks of having the museum doors thrown wide open to school age children with free rein. The museums are making a point to discourage the “shhhushing” of children in the museum, allowing children to run and play throughout the museum. Jenkins says of this policy, “It accommodates everything to those who don’t really want to be in a museum, rather than showing them something challenging and worthwhile.” Are museums encouraging children to learn about art or are they collecting babysitting fees?

A couple, with three small children were in the museum when some friends and I attended an exhibit of the Dutch Masters. While contemplating these wonderful masterpieces, we were treated to crying, toy throwing, screaming and other sounds of children being children. The parents made very little attempt to suppress any of this behavior. It went on for the entire time we were there. Some of the toy throwing came very close to these beautiful works of art. Like Tiffany Jenkins, I felt a bit curmudgeonly for thinking that perhaps the museum was not the best place for children of this age. I couldn’t see that the children were getting anything out of the experience either.

Are we helping children understand and appreciate art by encouraging them to use an art museum as a playground? The interactive play rooms that some museums have added is a good thing, but is allowing children to run and play through exhibits of art, teaching them anything about art? As my inner curmudgeon has come out on this one, I would love to hear what others have to say about this issue. Is it a good thing or not??

Imagine the following exhibit with children running around being children while you contemplate this art:

What Influence?

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Blessed is the influence of one true loving human soul on another.” George Elliot (from The Painter’s Keys)

A new book has recently been published reportedly naming the most influential art and artists of the last twenty years. The writer has singled out 100 artists to name as the top 100. If these are the most influential artists, then what does it say for us? What does it say for art? Judging from the list, it appears the art world still hangs onto the artists who can make the biggest political statement of some sort. It’s all about the statement.

Writing for Real Clear Arts in the Arts Journal blog, Judith Dobrzynski says of the book’s author, “It takes a lot of nerve, and the willingness to be wrong, incredibly wrong, to write the book that Kelly Grovier published in the U.S. this month (and in September in the U.K.).” The point is perhaps more to why he chose the art and artists he did and on what basis did he make his decisions? A number of the artists on the list are known more for their controversial statements than for their artistic skill.

Of course the list includes the much-heralded street artist, Banksy. Looking at Banksy’s many works on the walls, buildings and cars of New York City, one sees whimsical statements and cute figures. Lost in the moment are the owners of the properties that have been defaced and who must now pay to have the work removed. And what of he glorification of graffiti? Graffiti has damaged and defaced many beautiful, old and precious buildings. Is Banksy glorifying the destruction of other people’s property? Or is it okay to disrespect others in the name of art?

To many people, art is for beauty, for touching souls, for uplifting spirits. Making art that reaches into the heart and sparks a deep emotion is a wonderful thing. To stand in a room full of the all- encompassing powerful energy of beautiful works of art is a deeply moving experience. What does it say about us to be influenced more by a person who defaces the property of his fellow humans over the artist who strives to create a thing of beauty to share with others? Hopefully, Kelly Grovier is wrong in his choices.

Moving the Barricades

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“To me, art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risk.”  Mark Rothko (from SusieGadea.com)

Capturing what is in the heart and splattering it all over canvas or paper is what artists do.  Facing what others say about that heart is what happens with every work of art placed into the public arena.  The risk of acceptance or rejection of what’s in the heart, what comes from a place that in most other people is only rarely exposed, is the daily life of an artist.  Some are more able to handle the daily unveiling than others.

For many artists, facing the big “F” word is a major challenge.  Fear!  And with fear comes the tag, “of failure.”  These two big “F” words pack a major punch.  What if no one likes my art?  What if no one wants my art?  Why am I risking my heart if no one wants to see what’s in there?  Maybe its better to just keep it hidden.  That’s the safe thing to do.  Keep it all inside.  Don’t let it out to play.  That way it can’t get hurt.  It stays safe, tucked away deep inside where the outside world can’t get to it.

In her blog, “I paint, I write” Pamela Hodges says, “The little girl wants an A on her paper.  A shiny star on top of the math page for not getting any problems wrong.”  That little girl or boy is inside the heart of us all.  We go into protection mode to shield the child from hurt.  So we erect the barriers.  For people whose life work does not require the continual heart exposure this is no problem.  For the artist, it can be a daily problem.

Dr. Bob Tobin, in his blog, states, “artists show the courage that many of us could only begin to imagine.”  This daily pumping out of what’s inside is a courageous undertaking.  Pamela Hodges states, “Creating takes courage.  Courage to stand out and be seen.  Courage to risk failure, and to risk success.”  To do less is to give in to the big “F” word.  Do we allow that to happen?

No!  The courage to conquer the big “F” comes from the same source as the art.  Courage comes from the heart.  As the art is allowed to flow from the heart, so must the courage.  To open to one, is to open to the other.  Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, it was there all the time.  It just has to be acknowledged and out it comes.  All the Lion lacked was a medal, an award of courage.  Go to the studio and make a medal.  You’ve earned it!  Then stand aside and allow the courage to flow along with the art as you allow the heart to come out from behind the safety barricades, and step into the sun.