Another little ranty post coming up...
"Kiss" by Marc Quinn
Sculpture in Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield
Click on the link here for another look at the sculpture by Marc Quinn. There's a close up and more information about the sculptor and models here. Try some of the other links too, they're interesting.
I helped out on a school trip this week, taking two classes of Year 1 children (aged 5-6) to an art gallery. The theme was portraits, particularly focusing on feelings; the feelings portrayed in the art, and the feelings we have in response.
We were given a wonderful talk and slide show by a member of the gallery's staff, who then took us to look in more detail at some of the exhibits while she told the children about the artists and the people featured in the artworks. She spoke about this sculpture, explained a little about the history of thalidomide and its effects, asked the children if they could see anything different about the models compared with themselves, and said it was her favourite piece in the whole gallery because it is so beautiful.
The children who had the session in the morning listened to this talk and looked at the sculpture. By the afternoon, this section of the tour had been dropped. There seemed to be a view (that of some parents accompanying the trip? Or the teachers? I don't know) that the content of the talk or the statue itself was inappropriate for young children.
What on earth is all that about?
If the issue is nudity - oh please, all the children on the trip have seen their own naked bodies, and most likely that of their siblings and parents too. PLEASE let nudity not be the issue. If children of 5 and 6 are to be taught that there is something embarrassing, shameful or "inappropriate" about the human body, we are setting them up for major problems in life.
Is the issue disability then?
So we have to shield our children from the dreaded horror of difference, do we?
Now, I know I have a particular sensitivity to this issue. I want my daughter to hear the message of this sculpture; that difference and disability are no barrier to love and beauty. You know how I feel about this, I wrote about it recently here. But this isn't just a personal crusade on my child's behalf. It's an important message for all children to hear. All children can benefit from realising that it's a big wide world out there, with people who face all sorts of challenges, who look and behave and think differently, but who are loved and appreciated, and are just as suitable a subject for art as anyone else.
Inappropriate? How can thinking and talking about difference and disability be inappropriate? Any child who has first-hand experience of disability (be it their own, or that of a sibling, a parent, family member or friend) will be thinking and talking about it from an early age.They don't have the luxury of ignorance.
My daughter's class wasn't on this particular trip, they will be going on Wednesday and I will be going along again to help. I have spoken to N's teacher to ask why the sculpture was edited out, and made my plea for that part of the tour to be reinstated, for all the above reasons. She seemed sympathetic, so I am hoping N's class will have the opportunity to look at this beautiful sculpture and think about its meaning and relevance.
If they don't, then I will be taking my kids back to the gallery in our own time and making a bee line for that sculpture. I'm not afraid to discuss the issues it brings up, and I know they won't be either. We can't ignore difference/disability, because we are living with it.
This girl will never be invisible!