Why galleries should be kid-free

01:47, Apr 13 2012
child at art gallery
TAKE ME HOME: 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 was half way through the gallery, somewhere between the flat, post-Gothic Madonna/Jesus stuff and the later, more interesting portraits - the ones where the people actually start to look like people - when I really wished all the children would go away.

Like the rest of the people at the National Gallery that day, I had come to look at the Italian Renassaince paintings.

Unlike the rest of the people of the National Gallery that day, I hadn't taken my children along.

In part this is because I don't have any. But I like to think that even if I had half a dozen of them, each of whom was perfect and special in their own way, and at least one of whom was sure to grow up to be a great artist, I still wouldn't have brought them.

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.

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.


The whole exercise is a parenting pretension. In the modern age, every middle-class parent wants their kid to be educated, intelligent and cultured. They take their kids to the gallery for aspirational, not educational reasons. This week I watched this adorable video of the nine-year-old Caine Monroy, a kid whose Dad owns a used auto-parts store in East LA.

Caine was forced, presumably through a lack of other childcare options, to go to work with his Dad every day of his summer vacation. So Caine, intelligent, sweet and obssessed with arcade games, set to work building his own arcade out of cardboard boxes, dinky plastic toys he collected himself, and a bunch of cheap calculators. The result is an amazing imaginative feat, a kiddie wonderland where ingenuity meets creativity.

Caine is what you might call a working class kid. If he was middle-class, his holidays would probably have been over-scheduled with activities designed to nurture his unique talents. But all Caine needed to nurse his unique talents was a long stretch of time in which he would otherwise have been bored, and a loving Dad who expected him to entertain himself.

Oh, how I wish there were more of them. Being an over-involved parent doesn't just make brats of children, it stresses the parents too.

The French feminist Elisabeth Badinter has written a book arguing that so-called ''progressive parenting'', which promotes constant child-mother contact, is antithetical to feminism. Women who parent in this way are relinquishing control over their bodies and time, the two things feminists have fought so hard to reclaim. I tend to agree.

I don't think I entered an art gallery until I went to Europe as a backpacker, by which time I had enough education to understand some of the historical and cultural context of what I was seeing. Despite not being exposed to art until I was fully grown, or to Bach in the womb, I now enjoy both regularly and my brain seems to have developed okay (my highschool maths teacher may disagree). That same backpacking trip, a glorious helter-skelter ride through a western European summer, occurred in 1995, the pre-email past. Beyond an occasional postcard, our parents knew we were okay when they didn't hear from us. We were barely 18, totally unsupervised and very, very happy.

-Daily Life