Jake Chapman describes taking children to galleries as ‘a waste of time’

Though I’m loath to fan the flames of publicity for a celebrity artist, some of the comments surrounding Jake Chapman’s recent assertion that taking children to art galleries is ‘a waste of time’ saddened and dismayed me (even in a poll run by the Guardian, one in five people agreed with his statement).

Whilst I don’t believe anyone who describes his children as ‘not human yet’ warrants much of a response, I find Chapman’s comments wrong-headed on a lot of levels. I find it strange that Chapman reduces the value of an art experience to mere ‘understanding’, ignoring the potential for art to be something which can be ‘experienced’ even if not fully grasped (the artists cited in press coverage of Chapman’s statement, Rothko and Pollock, seem to me to be a perfect example of this. Do I find their work intricate, interesting and worthy of spending some time with? Yes. Can I, or do I want to, tell you what they are ‘about’, and I do I think that this is important? No).

There is clearly a great deal more that an eight-year-old can get out of visiting a gallery than, say, a one-year-old, yet I’ve seen first-hand that valuable work is being done by education officers in making collections fun, friendly and accessible to families and providing a way in to what can sometimes be an intimidating environment.

I believe Chapman patronises children’s abilities to take visual interest in artworks, or to enjoy details of artworks: the way art looks can still provide visual/intellectual interest, enjoyment and stimulation even without being ‘understood’ on an intellectual level. For children who experience making artwork of their own in school, furthermore, seeing the work of practising artists can provide a talking point and a comparison, as demonstrated by Pictures for Schools, which gave children visiting its exhibitions questionnaires to complete as they looked at the artworks to ensure they really thought about and engaged with what they saw. Some of the responses indicated that children had given some deal of thought to how the artists whose work they were looking at had achieved their effect, and identified similarities with their own approach to making art. Pictures for Schools did not aim to replace the creation of art by the appreciation of art, but its organisers believed that being able to see original works of art could help children approach their own art with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

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