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12/17/2009

Art vs. Zombies

731447_90740785 I’m not a big believer in putting padded walls between my son and the rest of the world. That means I don’t only take him to places that are designated for children. Truthfully, the marketing campaigns directed at children in “kid-friendly” places are often so offensive that we avoid them altogether. I’ll take a wall full of nude paintings over fuzzy corporate characters paid to give my child unimaginative coloring sheets emblazoned with insurance company logos any day.

So we see grown-up music at outdoor festivals. We visit galleries, whether the art is playful and folksy or highbrow and abstract. We look for events that are interesting and present an opportunity to see and talk about creative ideas, history and expression.

I want my kid to consume art, to suspect it and revere it, to love it, to hate it, to be able to discuss it, even if it's controversial or difficult. I grew up the child of an educator who taught me that art evokes more questions than answers. I want my son to always be looking for new questions.

This weekend we went to a warehouse that has a maze of artists’ studios inside of it, a place we enjoy and visit three or four times a year. They had an open house with lots of affordable artwork up for sale.

But in the main open space of the building, next to a table filled with veggies and dip, Christmas cookies, candy and soda pop, was a promo a local filmmaker was doing to raise money for his project – a zombie movie. He had a television on his table running with a stack of zombie films. As my son moved toward a bottle of red pop, I strategically kept him on the side of the table that kept him from seeing that television. I poured his drink while I watched two bodies get blown to bits and another one burned on the screen.

I know that when I visit a place like this one, I’m likely to encounter some work that is uncomfortable or hard to explain. A lot of the art world has no desire to involve kids in what it does unless it has stated an intention to do so. I don’t go around expecting it to accommodate me. But I truly wasn’t prepared for nonstop B-movie violence out in an open space at 6 pm, when you’d usually have to be 17 to see it in the theater.

Zombies are all the rage in movies these days, but they’re hard to explain to a four-year-old who has just begun to figure out that death is something very, very real. It turned the event from something not exactly kid-friendly, but manageable, to something that felt very kid-unfriendly.

We wound back through other hallways, away from that space. I loved the questions and thoughts that being in the studios inspired in my son, from “why can’t I touch art?” to musings about the subjects of the work, like “hey - this bird is all puffed up!” We examined things to find out what they were made out of, he ignored others in favor of trying to balance a penny on its side on the concrete floor. But he wanted to go back to the main section for a snack or drink. And I was doing anything I could to avoid letting him back there.

There were more studios that I wanted to see, and thought my son would enjoy exploring, but I just left. I felt angry that my choices seemed to be to either come off as some kind of censor-happy PMRC mom, tsk-tsking the art kids or simply turning tail and running. The average American child sees 200,000 violent acts by the age of 18, and I didn’t need my son racking up several dozen of them before he turns five.

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Tracy blogs about parenthood, space and spirituality at Tiny Mantras, as well as her accidental career in journalism at Write Arm.

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