When I have children, I will take them to the contemporary art museum, and when they ask: "Why is this in a museum?" I will say: "I guess someone thinks it's art, what do you think?"
When they say: "I could do that." I will say: "You absolutely could, but would you?"
When they say: "What does that mean?" I will ask: "What do you think it means?"
Yesterday I went to the ICA with my sister. It's still holiday vacation for public school, and there were more families there than I expected, which bothered me at first. The kids were asking such inane questions! How do these parents expect their seven-year-olds to understand that the film of the man with a bow and arrow in a supermarket is a reflection of our hunter/gatherer roots?
After eavesdropping on these families for awhile, though, I realized that their questions were wonderful! Isn't it fabulous that these little people are questioning the concept of Art (capital A) and the power of a Museum (capital M)? Isn't it cool that they're recognizing their own ability to create? And how much does it suck that the grownups in their lives respond to questions like: "Why is this in a museum?" with an answer like: "To entertain you"?! Perhaps that's why, but I have some other ideas. I'm sure the kids had some ideas too, and I'd love to hear what they thought.
Of course, I'm also guilty of this closed, adult way of thinking: After the ICA, we were walking down the snowy street and a family was coming in the opposite direction. The dad and the kids were using the snow that had been banked on the side of the road by plows to make snowballs, which they were throwing at each other. My first thought was: Ew! That snow is so dirty!
But as we approached each other, I saw their bright, ruddy faces and heard the peals of laughter and I realized they were having great fun! And I remembered how, only about an hour earlier, Rachel and I had lay on the cement floor of the museum, looking at the installations by Tara Donovan (like the one above) from a new perspective.
The floor was probably just as dirty as the snow. And letting the dirt stop me, or stop that family, is just as limiting as how I heard those parents answer their children's questions.
I got home from the museum feeling nourished. It was an excellent reminder of the benefits of fresh air, art, unbridled wonder, open minds, adventures, getting out, thinking differently, asking questions, smiling genuinely, and exploring the limitless boundaries of inspiration and fun.