I know … I know. But hang with me on this for one moment.
Let’s talk about what appears to be trending in art museums and galleries all over the world.
Of course, the circumstances and scenarios vary, but they usually go something like this …
Your child is frolicking through the gallery, they’re excited by all the great things they see, you’re distracted for a moment and suddenly, your kid does the ultimate childish thing and gives in to his impulses.
He TOUCHES or PUSHES or PULLS or HUGS or even HITS the art.
Next thing you know, a $200,000 sculpture goes crashing to the floor.
That beautiful work of art now has a new name.
Needless to say, everyone in the gallery heard it and a few people even witnessed it. And yes, it was caught on tape.
First lesson kids? Your Big Brother will always rat on you.
Thankfully, the child is okay. As much as I personally love art, I must say that people DO come first.
That said, let me add this … during my years of visiting galleries and museums, I have noticed how – despite clearly expressed gallery rules and regulations – many parents have become increasingly permissive. It’s sometimes shocking.
I remember years ago, I was in a museum where two little kids were basically running wild. Part of me loved this because I believe that teaching people about art really begins during early childhood and children should feel comfortable in the presence of art. However, one of the kids was carrying some sort of toy that he was using to try to hit the paintings that were hung just slightly higher than he could reach.
About thirty seconds later, a museum guard (don’t we LOVE them?) walked over to their apparently oblivious mom and said …
“Maaaaaam? Would you PLEASE keep an eye on your children?”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Thanks!” replied the mom.
I believe that children are among our most precious assets – even above art masterworks. HOWEVER, parents need to be parents and teach their kids how to respect things – especially art.
Parents, when you are in a museum with your kids, you are NOT their friend. You are their parent. They need proper guidance.
Parents need to teach their kids how to engage with their environment in respectful ways. Parents need to teach their kids that when they’re in someone else’s house, they need to follow house rules.
Everyone thinks they’ve got the “Cutest Kid in the World,” but there’s absolutely nothing cute about a kid who breaks stuff ... despite whether it’s on purpose or by pure accident.
We could sit here and debate the causes behind broken masterworks all day long, but the point is that we ALL need to be extremely cautious around art. This is regardless of whether it’s “good art” or “bad art.”
There’s a right way and a wrong way to engage with art. The museum will spell out the rules and we should WANT to respect those rules. Kids included.
Imagine if somebody’s kid came into your home and broke – albeit accidentally – a few pieces of the precious China you inherited from your grandmother. Of course, your first concern should be the safety of that child, but wouldn’t you ALSO be very pissed? Of course, you would. Fess up.
At the end of the day, even masterpieces have a shelf life. It’s the function of museums is to extend that shelf life for a long as humanly possible – while keeping them accessible to everyday people. Art institutions need us to follow exhibition rules. They’re not there for play.
SO … should kids be banned from art museums?
Of course not. Some kids grow up to be artists and curators and art dealers and gallery owners and museum directors and even art patrons. We need to expose them to art as early as possible. Art needs kids and kids need art. Kids help keep art alive.
However, we should also remember that you don’t start raising kids when they’re teenagers. Kids need to be taught appropriate conduct basically when they start walking.
Knowing right from wrong begins with teaching respect. This is the job of the parent.
When I was a kid going on school field trips to MOMA, The Met and The Guggenheim, I didn’t dare touch anything. I recall being told not to … but I also think that even at that early age, I was aware of the sacred nature of what I was witnessing. These things were not to be touched.
I don’t know.
Look … let’s be real here. Kids are kids. Even the most disciplined and well-behaved kids do irresponsible things. They’re kids.
But here’s where the rubber meets the road … or shall I say … sculpture hits the gallery floor …
If I were a museum director, would I send an invoice for a broken work of art to the parent of the child who was responsible? You bet I would. I would also inquire as to the type of insurance policy the parent has to help compensate for the loss.
Museums have expenses just like the rest of us – and the last thing they want is a damage bill. And just imagine how upset the artist who poured their heart, soul and sweat into the ruined art work will be upon getting word about the mishap.
I would be very compassionate and understanding about the child, yet firm. I would also require the parent to take FULL RESPONSIBILITY in writing for their child’s actions and the role (or lack thereof) that they – the parent – played in the incident. This would be non-negotiable.
Needless to say, many parents wouldn’t be able to help recover the cost of the damaged or even destroyed art. Given that, to pay restitution, I would ask staff attorneys to require the parent(s) to do a significant amount of volunteer service for the museum – or some other art institution in their local community.
Let’s simply call it, “teaching art appreciation through depreciation.” Bring the kids along!
Broken art is no joke. And while children are much higher up on the food chain (as they should be) than art, we need to send a clear message to everyone that art …
… is not to be toyed with.