Modern art and the YouTube generation

Tate Modern

We took the kids to the Tate Modern to educate them about modern art. But in the end I think Isaac taught me a lesson too.

Having made our way into London for our traditional Chinese New Year family lunch on Saturday, we decided to expose the children to a spot of culture in the afternoon and took them for their first visit to the Tate Modern.

Mixed reviews

Much as we expected, it received mixed reviews.

Kara, who doesn’t turn four for another three months, gamely padded around with us, occasionally showing a brief interest in something big, bold and colourful.

Toby is normally our artistic one. But it must be said he was in one of his less enthusiastic moods. He stomped round with a face nearly as grey and foreboding as the London sky and simply declared that everything he saw was “rubbish”.

To be fair, when it comes to some of the more avant-garde pieces, I find it hard not to disagree with him. The current mega-installation in the Turbine Hall consists of 240 triangular boxes of soil, sprouting a couple of flowering plants and a lot of weeds. I get that it’s supposed to be about change and hope growing out of nothing. However, my initial reaction was much the same as Toby’s. Not so much a heap of soil as a load of manure, if you get my drift.

Art is meant to be provocative and open to subjective interpretation and beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. I like a lot of modern art: Picasso, Dali, Joan Miro, pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. I’m particularly fond of the metal sculptures of Alberto Giacometti. I know what I like and I like what I know but I don’t have the vocabulary or the eye to say much more than that.

Video art and the YouTube generation

One genre I’ve always struggled with is video art. I’ve rarely seen a video installation that has evoked any response other than a nagging suspicion that someone filmed something and declared it some higher form of art in the hope that no one would notice that it was little more than pretentious, empty twaddle. That probably says more about my limited artistic appreciation but there you go: I don’t like video art.

However, as Toby and Kara tired of negotiating the weekend crowds and were whisked off by Heather to the gift shop as a form of bribery alternative entertainment, Isaac and I continued to wander the collections. Mondrian Tate Modern
He had expressed an interest in seeing any pieces by Piet Mondrian – best known for paintings of intersecting black lines filled with blocks of primary colour. It’s a style that is familiar to non-art lovers by virtue of being adopted by brands.

L'Oreal Studio LineIsaac enjoyed these – the paintings, not the hair products – but what repeatedly caught his eye were the big video installations, all of them suitably weird abstract and pretentious provocative – the sort of thing that I would usually avoid like the plague.

Our eight-year-old, however, was enthralled. He watched them for ages and showed he had taken much of it in when he bombarded me afterwards with lots of challenging questions. Which is exactly what modern art should do.

Should I have been surprised that a member of the YouTube generation should show such an affinity for video-based content? With hindsight, probably not. But it’s enough to make me reconsider how dismissive I have been of video art and view it with a more open mind in future.

Interesting. And there I was thinking that I was the one who was supposed to be teaching Isaac about art.

Tate Modern donation box
A final footnote. Like all London’s public museums, entry to the Tate Modern is free (although you do pay to see temporary exhibitions).

As a parent, that is a godsend. It means we can visit a museum and duck out after an hour if we want to. (Obviously 57 minutes of that hour will have been spent in the gift shop, but hey.) If we’d had to pay £10 each to get in, we probably wouldn’t have bothered. Instead the kids got a little taste of culture to help expand their horizons – and ours.

All it costs us is, well, potentially nothing but in reality a nominal suggested donation of £4 per person. That really is a pittance for the privilege of seeing such an extensive collection – some of it pretentious twaddle, yes, but much of it genuinely great. I parted with a £20 note without a second thought.

There are many things that are not great about London. But access to free museums is one of the many things I love about the city. Even if it means watching videos.

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