Children vs Art Galleries

13 04 2012

A recent news story states: “Because there is a list of places children should not go, and the art gallery is at the top of it. Children, at least up to a certain age, don’t enjoy art galleries. There are about ten thousand things children would rather do than traipse around a place where they have to be quiet and look at static objects they don’t understand.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for years. It’s a sensitive one, and I have such a view of both sides that I find it hard to decide.

Pro-kids:

  • even ‘parents’ have their own interests they like to pursue (I know! outrageous)
  • not all parents have the luxury of babysitters on tap (I live in a city far from any of my extended family, so can totally understand this)
  • exposing growing minds to various art forms and encouraging an appreciation of the arts is special and important for society (though do suggest that the art gallery is not the only place in the whole world that this can be done)

No-kids:

  • I’m thinking that the debate only applies to children under say 5 years (or at least prep school age), as older children are more capable of ‘behaving in public’ and therefore less likely to be a nuisance
  • personal experience: I’ve had many a beautiful art reverie interrupted by a call for the toilet or a tantrum; though it’s persistent screaming that bothers me most
  • the littlest of babies can be so noisy: they have such essential primitive needs that crying will wait for no artwork; though this is so much more tolerable as they’re so little … it’s the toddlers that pose most potential, those with little ways of social awareness and big ways of self-expression
  • out-of-control toddlers and children can damage artworks – this seriously does concern me

Possible solutions:

  • I have thought of the possibility that galleries hold ‘family-friendly’ or ‘babes-in-arms’ sessions, kind of like the movies do, for the larger exhibitions; though times would be restrictive and may be inconvenient for parents, plus it is likely to reduce the income for the galleries if certain groups are excluded at certain times
  • other way around: specific no-children sessions, like in the evening …
  • some of the galleries I’ve visited do have children-specific aspects to larger exhibitions – and this is great for the kids, though doesn’t cater to the parental intellectual interest (parents have needs too you know)
  • question: do any top-class galleries have a crèche? Ikea has considered it worth investing in; so have many gyms …

The article also states: “Parents, if they’re honest, don’t enjoy bringing their children to art galleries. They spend their time trying to  convince their children that art isn’t boring, or stopping the children from making a scene, or ushering them out of the gallery when they’ve failed to stop them from making a scene.

I’m not a parent, so I have no first-hand experience. Is there anything that can be done so parents (or even grandparents, uncles, friends, honorary aunts) can have their art experience and may comfortably share it with children if they want to?

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A quick whiz around the larger galleries of Australia and searching on each with ‘visiting with children’ I found the below:

And a couple of the international big ones, just for comparison:

From The National Gallery site I was led to a site “Kids in Museums” with a manifesto they’ve asked museums and galleries in Britain to sign up to … thought-provoking stuff.

In reading more online, I found this news story that also highlights the possible damage to artworks and asks (among other good points) the question: “Art galleries and museums are trying to make themselves increasingly family-friendly. Does it work – or are buggies and Bacon just not a good mix?

I want adults to be able to enjoy art if they want to and be able to do so with options for bringing their children – but I cannot let go of my love of a quiet space for contemplation of artworks.
Perhaps earplugs or total-silence-headphones (they don’t exist yet, I know).
Perhaps the galleries needs more of the evening ‘child-free’ sessions.
What do you think?

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Update (14th April): As you can probably tell, and regular readers know, I tend to write my blog posts as I’m thinking through the topic. So sometimes my thoughts evolve over the writing, or points become more clear to me.

In the interests of clarity, I thought I’d simplify or even summarise where I’m at on this topic now:

  • family and kids programs at art galleries are an awesome idea, without question
  • the sensitive issue is around younger children (little on social awareness and big on self-expression), say under 5s, visiting the main exhibitions (not the children-specific activities, in fact they’re often too young for the special programs); small people can be noisy and potentially can cause damage to artwork if not restrained in a pushchair / stroller / buggy (which themselves can be troublesome in some exhibition spaces)
  • personally, it’s important to me that I have quiet space to contemplate art – that’s just how I like it; and no, the same experience cannot be had at home looking at a replicant of the artwork in a book or on the internet
  • alongside that, I think it’s important a parent with a small child (who has no other choice but to bring their little person with them into the ‘grown up exhibition’) is given every opportunity to pursue their love of art
  • so, what about a crèche?
  • perhaps the increasing tendency towards timed tickets for the blockbuster exhibitions means that galleries may be able to specify half-days that are toddler-friendly or child-free, providing the possibility for me to choose a session without crying babies (though sadly it won’t reduce the probability of loud stupid adults!) and for parents to choose a session where they won’t be glared at by others (put yourself in their position, it can’t be easy for them)

That’ll do for now I think.

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2 responses

13 04 2012
Vetti

I choose to visit galleries and museums in the evening or first thing in the morning, and avoid school hours, weekends, and school holidays as much as possible. I do wish more galleries offered evening viewings – finishing work, meeting a friend for a pre-dinner gallery stroll (and a glass or two) is most enjoyable!

14 04 2012
Mark Holsworth

From my extensive experience of visiting art galleries around the world Australian galleries are lagging behind having anything for children, although occasionally something is added as an after thought. Many European galleries have a specific kids area or programs for kids.
I don’t have kids but I haven’t really been disturbed by them in a gallery – I have no traumatized memories of a screaming child and any art. The best parenting example that I have seen in a major art gallery was three small children, the eldest could write but his younger siblings couldn’t, they all had pencils and sketch books and that kept their hands occupied.




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