Should Art challenge the viewer?
Recently, someone had an unexpected reaction to Syahidah’s art. A well to do Irish lady and her husband had the chance to see some of my wife’s work (which is now displayed at home). After they had viewed the works, we sought their reactions.
“Oh, they are nice.”, began the Irish woman, “but I wouldn’t have them in my house.”, she concluded, oddly.
“Why is that?”, I prodded, gently, muting my reaction and keeping my true thoughts from my face and tongue, lest they persuade her to disguise her own.
“Well, my children might not understand them – and I couldn’t risk that.” The prospect seemed to appall her.
Since her children are teenagers, to twenties, I thought this most peculiar.
I didn’t probe further, in general, but directed her attention towards one particular piece, which had two monumental faces facing each other.
“Oh no! I couldn’t bring that into the house.”, she looked somewhat disgusted. “They look like they are about to kiss. If my daughter (Ed: 15 years old), saw that, she would go “yewwh!””
I thought this response most enlightening about the psyche of my interlocutor. You see, the heads in the drawing were NOT about to kiss. They were near each other, yes – but, if anything they were just engaged in conversation. There was no kiss involved. In fact, both heads were men, too, which, in most circumstances, would have worked against her interpretation.
Further discussion with her, uncovered the obvious fact, that, for her, sexual interpretations were to be found in most of the drawings, even though, in reality, they were very mild, in that area. It seemed that it was her own perceptions, that were to blame, here. She was overly sensitive to the possibility of sexual interpretations of images, which, of course, suggested an undue preoccupation with or fear of such subject matter. Furthermore, her reactions were divided into two types: labeling some works, as sexual, when they weren’t really – or labeling works as “difficult” and therefore, “unsuitable for children” – because they “wouldn’t understand them”.
I found this all rather puzzling. To my perceptions they are all interesting works of art, many with a story, all with a point of view that reveals something about the subjects. None of them are “unsuitable for children” – indeed, our own children enjoy them, even Tiarnan, who is just five years old.
Is this Irishwoman right, do you think? Is it wrong to challenge children, with something beyond their immediate understanding?
My own view on the matter is that children should always be challenged. It is not right, I think, just to present them with whatever is readily understood without effort. When a child is challenged, the child has an opportunity to learn, to see something new. I believe that by being fearful of challenging her children with that which might puzzle them, this Irish lady is stifling the growth of her children: were they to see my wife’s works, part of their perceptions and understanding of the world and its possibilities would have a chance to expand.
I made no comment about the Irish woman’s outlook, at the time – but, to me, her parenting stance, on the issue, seemed remarkable and prompted me to reflect on it, subsequently, on several occasions. What do you think of her stance on not challenging her children with art beyond their immediate understanding? Is she right? Am I wrong?
Let me know your thoughts below please.
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