Jake Chapman, one half of the YBA duo the Chapman Brothers, has been rude about taking children to art galleries. He told the Independent that ‘it’s as moronic as a child’ to expect a child to understand complex modern artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko as ‘children are not human yet’. His forthright views have elicited a predictable response. Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund (who seems to be angry on a regular basis about some latest insult to the noble visual arts), countered on the Today programme that children can indeed appreciate a work of art deeply. Anthony Gormley told the Times that art is there to be experienced not understood. And the lady who wrote the Vagenda book told the Guardian that she had seen marvellous conceptual art aged three and that ‘access to art has made my life better’ and that ‘art teaches us what it is to be human’.
All of these views miss the mark entirely. Taking one’s children to look at modern and contemporary art, as I regularly do, is an important way of demonstrating one’s cultural superiority over the masses; but there are very specific ways of doing this. I choose blockbuster exhibitions at Tate Modern and, using my Tate Members card, bypass any queuing, which marks one down as either a tourist, an interloper or someone who has made their gallery visit some sort of special occasion.
Secondly, I make sure I bypass most of the exhibition, walking noisily with the kids and my long-suffering partner through the first few rooms. Then I pick one work somewhere in the middle of the exhibition to stand in front of and talk about in a way that is both highly knowledgeable and disarmingly charming to kids.