This was a question I overheard an eleven year old girl ask at the MA show today. It might sound like a negative question, but actually I see it as a positive. In asking this question, she is expressing her surprise that art can be different things and not just the sort of drawing or painting, or collage or sculpture making that she might have been exposed to, perhaps mainly at school, up to this point. She was amazed that art could be other things, and hence questioned it.
While I have been invigilating at the New Art Gallery Walsall, I have been lucky enough to be there on two days when the gallery has been visited by two large groups of eleven year olds. Today was the second of the two days. As part of their trip, the children visited the Family Gallery, where I was sat invigilating, in groups of about twenty-five accompanied by a teacher. Each group was allowed about ten minutes to look around the room freely. I took this opportunity to observe what seemed to interest them, attract them, and invite comment. I heard some very remarkable things, and some quite amusing things too.
In terms of attraction, for example, Gary Ringroad’s Elysian Platinum Fields tended to attract the boys more than the girls, slightly. I realise I am at risk of being accused of sexual stereotyping here but I am just recounting observations. Perhaps the boys were attracted to the three-dimensional, science fiction-esque and realistic nature of it having been exposed more to that side of art in fiction and film compared to the girls. The girls were interested in the piece too of course but their interest tended to focus on the detail of the construction or the narrative of the video and the boys’ curiosity centred more on the dusty, baron exterior of the landscape beyond the dome or the architecture or statute in the middle. Both boys and girls asked pertinent questions about the piece though, and had their own, sometimes unexpected, take on what it was about.
This slight gender difference could also be seen in their reactions to other artworks, such as the ‘ow bin ya’ text which the boys appeared to be slightly more drawn towards than the girls. On other days, I have also observed differences in the ages of visitors and their reactions. Most young children immediately run either towards Jackie Sanderson’s colourful pipes that scream ‘touch me!’ to them, or Gary Ringroad’s tiny pebbles on the dusty surface of his piece. They don’t seem that enamoured with the paintings on the wall or my painted sculptures. It is a natural human instinct to want to touch and feel interesting and / or colourful objects. It’s a shame we drum that out of people (that’s another blog subject I feel).
So, to prevent me from digressing, I will end here on the question I began with: How is that even art? It is art, because anything can be art and art can be anything. Of course it has to have ‘something’ to be art otherwise I could argue that the plate next to me with cheese cake crumbs on it is art. That something is the message and the essence of the artwork. the medium is secondary to that. I hope that girl realised that today. After asking the question, she stared for a long time at the piece she was questioning, and followed through with various other interesting observations which proved to me that the artwork had had an impact on her. It had provoked her. It had challenged her. It had make her think Therefore, it is even art.