? about art museums and kids, paging museum employees past and present

The Nasher Museum is on the campus of Duke. I hadn’t been to it before, and today was"Family Day". I took my 8yr old and 6 yr. old

They had a children’s theatre group performing and a crafts activity set up, and a really really cool structure/sculpture outside woven of sticks by Patrick Dougherty.

They had a “gallery search” that turned out to be a little to challenging for us, but obviously they were trying to direct your attention to artwork that kids would be engaged by.

But there were other artworks that I wished they hadn’t got a look at, including a very large painting of one main sticking a pistol into another man’s face and some photos of china figurines that would fall into a category I would call “racist antiques” Now, as it happened, as far as I can tell I was the only one of our party who gave these pieces particular notice, but it did give me pause about bringing them to other art museums without a little guidance. (I should say this is not the first art museum we’ve been to)

Do museums ever make little guides to hand out at the desk to steer you away from certain pieces if you’re visiting with kids? Would such a thing be completely antithetical to the whole ethos of art museums?

What say you dopers?

Well, I’m not a museum employee, just a mom who has done her share of escorting kids to various museums, and I have to say that I’d be surprised to find an art museum that published any sort of pamphlet warning parents that “you might find things in here that might upset your kids”. Since everyone draws the line in a different place, how you gonna warn everybody? Some people would be offended by Botticelli’s Venus, seeing only a nekkid woman, and not the “art”. Similarly, some people find the graphic crucifixion and martyrdom scenes so popular in previous eras to be revolting.

Yeah, I think it would be “completely antithetical to the whole ethos of art museums”. Art museums are there to educate and enlighten, and frequently things that are educational are also going to be slightly offensive to some sensibilities–I’m thinking of things like the various Youtube videos that are now available on things like “How to field dress a deer” or “This is what it looks like when a sheep gives birth”.

So like I said, where you gonna draw the line?

I agree with Duck Duck Goose. How do you know where to draw the line?

Also, sometimes things should have an impact on us. Sometimes it seems like we get overly desensitized to things. Maybe it’s good that we be shocked every now and then.

I’ve never seen anything like that offered to museum goers. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing a content-designation of any kind - it’s always just artists’ names, media, and chronology. Maybe they just skirt the whole issue because it’s too hard to get it “right”?

Robert Mapplethorpe’s show in Cincinnati might be an exception, but that was a whole show about one controversial person and the town Sheriff was flipping out.

But I share your dismay over guns - we took the kids to a free family concert last fall and had a wonderful time, but I it really threw me when they used a prop gun onstage to “shoot” someone. It was all in good fun within the context, but still.

I took my kids to the art museum at about 5 and 6. We are pretty open and I didn’t see anything that I wasn’t prepared to have them see.

However, they did get to the big Renaissance art section and point and say - loudly because five and six year old children forget inside voices regularly - and especially at critical moments - “Look Mom, You Can See Her Butt!!!”

I actually think the art museum is pretty easy - at least the one here - if you know the museum. i.e. avoid the photo sections or the huge gallery of Renaissance nudes. But walking into an art museum (particularly modern art) with kids and no idea of what the museum is displaying is going to mean “explaining appropriate and context to kids.”

Huh - Renaissance nudes wouldn’t bother me in the least. Different strokes…

Oh, they didn’t bother me in the least either. My kids yelling out inappropriately in the museum did - and understanding after that experience that they probably just are incapable at that age of having that filter - even had I warned them, I probably wouldn’t have taken them in - not because I didn’t want to expose them, but because it wasn’t appropriate for them to yell that in the gallery.

I’ve also never seen such a guide or tour. I think if you have a problem with your child seeing anything - be it nudity or guns or tangerines, the burden is on you as a parent to educate yourself and make appropriate plans. Maybe that means going twice - once to scout out a “safe” route and once to take the kids. Maybe it means checking the museum website for a list of exhibits and googling each one to make sure it’s appropriate for your children.

But the last thing I’d want is “rated” tours or exhibits set up by the museum. That’s just dumbing down of culture, and I’m not a fan. There are children’s museums for really “safe” beginner experiences at such things. If my kid is too old to be interested by those, then maybe I *should *start talking to him about these things anyway. How will they learn to make good choices for themselves if the museum (and the television networks and the movies and their governments) always does it for them?

Disturbed by the image of a gun pointed at someone’s head? Good! I’d be more concerned if it wasn’t disturbing. But it seems like an excellent time to have a discussion - not just about the art (“Why do you think the artist painted this? Do you think he knew it would make us feel icky? Is art only for sharing good feelings or sometimes bad ones, too?”) but about the subject, too (“What would you do if you saw a real person pointing a gun at someone?”) It’s probably the easiest way in the world to bring up awkward topics that you know you have to address sooner or later.

Then tell them to use inside voice prior to entry and then reprimand them (shh! should do it) if they don’t remember.

I don’t see the trouble here. They’re 5 or 6? That’s old enough to know how to act inside. If they continue to well, be brats-leave! and give them a consequence of some kind.

sorry, didn’t mean to hijack, but how are they going to learn proper behavior if they are never exposed to places that demand proper behavior?

Re the OP. It’s a teaching moment, not a thing to avoid. There is no way any museum or art gallery can anticipate the varied reactions its displays will have on viewers. I have seen warnings (in the pamphlet) about some exhibits that showed Nazi photos of concentration camps and other such stuff.

We did leave. And I did shush them. But five or six (for my kids) was not really old enough to consistently behave - particularly when presented with something new. And I misjudged - they’d been there for a few hours being well behaved already. Five or six is not the age to expect proper behavior in an art museum for four or five hours. And from chaperoning field trips for kids that age, museum manners for kids are not common - even when the rules are well communicated. My kids (at least when I’m with them) have better museum manners than most of their peers. They don’t run, they don’t poke each other, they don’t touch unless told they can, and - baring seeing a larger than life nude - they use inside voices.

I agree. Best to leave at three or four when everyone’s still having a good time. I remember my mother torturing me with whole day trips to museums at that age, and it was awful. It was like a revelation when I had my own kids and realized it’s not “wasting admission money” if no one is having fun after two hours and you leave.

Former museum employee here, but I don’t think it really counts–I was an odd-jobs girl, not someone who was making decisions about displays.

However, I’ve been to an assload of museums. I’ve seen exhibits altered so kids can’t see them without parental intervention, and I’ve seen warnings about exhibits–but never in an art museum.

Of course, I don’t generally see lots of kids in art museums.

My guess is, if I’m an art museum director eager to get families and kids interested in the place, I might plan exhibits and activities that are kid-friendly. But I’m not sure I’d alter an exhibit schedule or mothball a permanently-exhibited piece to make other parts of the museum less potentially “offensive” to kids. Art has such a long history of being provocative, as a curator or director I am not sure I’d cotton to the idea at all. I’d rather leave it to the parents to decide what their kids should see, and what they wish to have a conversation about.

I am surprised to hear people say they’ve never seen content information offered to patrons. I’ve seen that at a number of art museums, including separate information for families and children. The National Gallery in DC has even set up an audiotour just for kids.

in mentioning this to local friends, apparently there IS a sign warning about the gun-to-face painting being possibly inappropriate for children, that I must’ve sailed right past. :smack:

The Art Institute of Chicago’s “Plan a Family Visit” page doesn’t mention anything about controversial content. It does have a link to their “touch gallery”, which is pretty cool - I took the twins there when all they were babies and they got a kick out of the big old heads!

The Metropolitan doesn’t say diddly. The Milwaukee Art Museum has suggestions about pacing and stamina, but says nothing about the collection.

I know someone who worked as a museum guard for a while - their only concern was that kids not destroy the modern displays. The ones where you can’t tell if it’s a pile of trash someone left behind. She told me about a “sand” piece, mostly a pile of sand, that some child dove into.

OTOH, maybe it’s just me, but a kid exclaiming loudly over nudes doesn’t seem like a huge deal. I’ve seen adults behave worse.

When I saw Body Worlds in Chicago, they had some of the exhibits separated with a notice that some people might find them disturbing. This was mainly in reference to a the preserved body of a pregnant woman (who had died of natural causes, a terminal illness) and donated her body to this art/science project. So just another data point that this happens sometimes.

Yep–I didn’t realize they’d been there for that long. I well remember the death marchs we went on as kids–because, by God, we were going to see the WHOLE thing. My kids never saw the entire Field museum until they were 8 or 9–we would go in, see one exhibit, eat a small something at the cafe there and leave. This worked well for all the museums except the Art Institute–they took to their dad’s atttitude toward (unfortunately expressed in front of them), and not even the doll house has changed their minds. Too bad, because that’s my fav…<sigh>

That’s part of the reason I don’t see one kid’s loud remarks as the end of the world - most of the people in a museum look pretty miserable as it is! :stuck_out_tongue:

We WERE having a good time - they weren’t begging me to leave and were interested - they’d just reached “squirrelly.” And squirrelly and butts and boobs and small children are a recipe for someone saying something inappropriate loudly.

(I think the rule holds for pretty much any male under the age of 25 who has reached squirrelly either through over exposure the the art museum or too much beer who gets surprised by nekkid women - something inappropriate is likely to be said or done).

I don’t think El Prado has a warning about Goya’s Dark Paintings being potentially disturbing… they assume anybody who’s heard of Goya knows they are.

I once took an American friend to El Prado. We were doing “my museum, your museum”, the one I’d chosen as “his” museum was the Military History one. We entered El Prado through Goya’s door, thus directly into the Dark Paintings… all the way to the other end, up the stairs, all the way back into Goya’s light paintings and designs. At this point my friend turned to me and said “this… the style looks a lot like the stuff from that guy we saw first, only it’s totally different.” “Same guy, these are the works from before the war.” “Oh. My.”

A lot of the Dark Paintings are in Spanish school books. Los Fusilamientos del Tres de Mayo (people being executed by firing squad on May 3rd 1808) may have been reproduced only a few times less than Velazquez’ Meninas. Is it shocking? Yes. More than the 9pm news?

I worked at the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art back in the 80s and 90s. There were some exhibits designed for children, but I never saw any materials designed to steer children away from any particular works or areas.