Dealing with adult topics in museums

This month the gallery is displaying an adult exhibit, so this is a great time for us to talk about how we as parents protect our children while giving them the culture they need for well rounded growth. 


Wall Street by Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler.


Often times art museums will feature nude, graphic, morbid, political, sexual, or scary topics. From abortion, to suicide, artists depict some of our worst nightmares. In most cases it's because they are haunted by these visions themselves and want to express a feeling or a deeper more controversial emotion. Artists use their art to start a conversation, or to express their innermost feelings or demons. So art becomes an outlet for bigger things than just making things pretty. This is where our job as a parent steps in, because there are some art exhibits that are not for kids. So what do you do to prevent your children from being exposed to these adult topics in an art museum?

1) Always call, or visit the museum prior to bringing your children. This way you can be sure that the exhibit currently on display is child friendly. 

2) If you happen to walk into the museum without calling, ask the receptionist on the way in about the exhibit. Most museums will do their best to warn you before entering an adult exhibit that this event is not for children. So make sure to take this extra step to avoid a situation when you enter the space.

3) Be prepared to have a conversation with your child. Some exhibits are not adult exhibits but feature nudity, like the statue of David. If a child notices that they don't have any clothes on, you can start by speaking openly about why they may be nude or by making it no big deal. Our 3 year old will often point out a butt in a painting and laugh, and we just say "Oh, that's silly" and keep it moving. We don't need a deep conversation about how he feels about butts, nor do we need to whisk him away covering his eyes. Keeping a situation calm and laughable helps you to move a child on to view something else. 


Image by Ludovic Florent


 Why is there nudity in art?

The human figure is beautiful, it is the most recognizable object, it shows movement, emotion, vulnerability, softness, strength and intensity that cannot always be seen when clothed. The viewer can now  see every muscle move, where the weight and tension rests in the body. You can almost feel the movement in your own body. This is what the artist wants, for you not to just view the art, but feel it, and become a part of it yourself.

Most artists are trained on drawing the nude figure because when you learn and understand the body, and its anatomy you can create more dynamic and emotive pieces. Nudity in art is not always sexual, or meant to be offensive. Instead of fearing nudity, look and see what the image is trying to convey, and you may unlock a new perspective. 

Kids under 5 may not understand all of the nuances of a painting, but you can ask them, "What colors do you see?" "Can you pose like that?" "What do you like about that?" when they comment on art in a museum. Older children are going to have more of an understanding of their surroundings so you first want to listen to their questions if they have any, and answer them the best you can.

You don't have to prod or embarrass them by bringing attention to the nudity if they don't bring it up themselves, instead make light of it, and use this as a teachable moment. Talk about the details, the softness of the hair, or even read about the artist and the subject. Pay attention to their body language, if they are uncomfortable give them the ability to step away. We are not here to force the nudity on our children, nor are we trying to make them fear it.

Pay attention to your own body language, and if it's too nervous or tense allow yourself to step away. Your child feeds off of your energy so if you can't talk about it yet, redirect the conversation to another piece. And again, knowing the exhibit you're attending will prevent you from feeling nervous about what your child might see or think. 

Join us next week as we talk about politics, social topics, and controversy in art and how to talk to kids about them.



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