We can assume that provocateur-YBA Jake Chapman exaggerated a bit with his recent remarks about what a “waste of time” it is to take children to art museums (see http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/a-gallery-visit-leave-the-children-at-home-says-top-artist-9644678.html). Digging himself deeper: “children are not yet human,” so (to paraphrase) they can’t get the complexities of (good) art. Finally, it trivializing artists (“it’s like saying the art is moronic”) to think that your kids could really appreciate it. Needless to say, easy target—and the obvious responses came in, en masse. We (art people) all have our “earliest hook” stories. (Jake and brother-collaborator Dinos, who grew up mainly in London with an art teacher father likely have some. Anyway, that that’s not the point of his mini-diatribe is one of his points, I think.)
But he brings up a prevalent tendency to defer emphasis from learning/knowing to passively feeling as the main (most important) goal of art—that the latter is sufficient for full engagement. It’s the only sphere I can think of off-hand where there’s a suspicion of claimed, cumulative expertise—the one immediately associated with clichés like: “My kid could do that.” Recalls Ad Reinhardt’s cartoon critiques (late 1940s) of popular views of modern art in particular; especially a well-known detail of a larger sheet, in which angels appropriated from Raphael confer:
“I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like … ”
“Yeah, isn’t it nice that the obligation to be intelligent doesn’t apply to the field of art?”
(Image: from http://www.e-flux.com/journal/under-the-gaze-of-theory/; accompanying an excellent, relevant article by Boris Groys (2012).
It is among the many distinct pleasures of the Frick that you will not run into children under 10, due to the in situ display of the collection in several furnished areas of the former mansion and the commitment to forgoing extensive barriers. Thank goodness not everything is prioritized for children.
BTW, don’t forget to disapprove strongly of the Frick expansion proposed this summer! (See post, 8/3/14). Really, these museums are lemmings in their bids to “out-big” each other, losing their unique identities, as well their respective cultural heritage progressively and stretching their missions to the brink, in many cases. Segue: there is a related mass move to “guide-ify” every aspect of the museum experience in the unending, ulterior-motivated call to be “all things to all people” (or rather all customers; you don’t have to read Adorno to get the gist of the contemporary culture-industry). There are increasing opportunities for “entry level” gigs (internships; contract) in the “museum education” sphere, the majority for primary and secondary school-age children, that seek to add fun and dazzle to the (pre-supposed boring, individualistic?) art experience. Heavily mediated in-house interpretation has, of course, substantially elided the adult experience with human or acousti – guides, and apps of all sorts at every turn, complete with signposts such as a floor trail at the Metropolitan Museum. Great outside, but constant chatter as the norm while viewing art inside a museum?
Lest I be misunderstood as Chapman was (I hope), I assure you I have admired much programming under the rubric of “Education” at virtually all NYC-area museums since the new millennium (especially, in areas of disabilities and language); and am no Luddite either (I can’t remember another occasion on which I have even used the term). My issue is the too-simple, spreading notion that app/sound-bit soundtracks are now, without question, “the way to go” — always — necessary for interest in art (“to get the young people” is a ubiquitous refrain).
On another level, this direction amounts to a naturalization of “visitor management” linked to museum branding and corporate tech giants that is promoted via collusion as well as competition between institutions. (This development was prefigured in the 1990s as museum gift shops, previously centralized destinations, began installing outposts on different floors to interpellate the viewer experience. Before we approach a saturation point in this regard, someone might suggest tuning out rather than turning on as (now) an experimental alternative.