How to Expose Your Kid to Art Without Freaking Them Out

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The following is an excerpt from Man vs. Child by Doug Moe, published by Abrams c 2017.

I live in New York City, home to some of the greatest art museums in the world. So naturally, I’ve been relentless in my quest to expose my child to art, even when she was uninterested. Exposing your child to art is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow on them, especially if you aren’t incredibly attractive or athletic. Then you’re relying on developing their “creativity” to keep them from becoming a deadbeat. But are art museums all upsides? Sadly, no. There are a few things to bear in mind.

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Art Is Full of Penises

I’m not against penises, but I bet you don’t notice how many penises there are in artwork until you have a child in tow. And a lot of these phalluses take you by surprise, popping up unexpectedly like they do.

In fact, it’s a reoccurring problem of art that the naughty bits appear without warning. It’s easy enough to avoid an exhibit that’s called Lots of Penises, but curators rarely title their exhibits so helpfully. It’s more likely that you’ll be looking at an exhibit called Trains!, and there’ll be some sick model train with a penis on it, and then your kid will have disturbing questions about how Thomas reproduces.

Ancient Greek Art: NSFW

Mostly, ancient Greek art is fine; their scantily clad sculptures aren’t terribly embarrassing. After all, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. Just don’t look at the vases too closely—the Greeks were innovators in porno vases. Subsequent ancient cultures invented paper and, eventually, the Internet, which made porn much more hideable. In ancient Greece, only the biggest pervs had giant vase collections.

All Video Installations Are Scary

For some reason, all video art is disturbing. If you make uplifting videos, you put them on YouTube and hope to go viral. If you make sad, repetitive, disturbing videos about dolls getting their hair shorn off, you make “video art.” Video art is almost always “too scary.” Usually, there will be moaning from the other room and darkness. Peeking around the corner, your kid will first be excited about “watching TV.” Then your kid will “want to go home.”

Sad Looking Toys All Knit Together in a Pile

Another commonly “scary” art exhibit is the pile of sad-looking stained stuffed animals, maybe sewn together to express something horrible about childhood. Or maybe it’s a bunch of Barbie dolls half-buried in sand. Or a rickety baby carriage with a stuffed crow in it. You know, something that reminds you of that weird daycare down the street. Children can’t yet appreciate re-contextualized toys. Hopefully, your own child will never seek to represent your parenting in an art museum; it’s hardly ever flattering.

Cute Then Disturbing

I always get nervous about cute things in art museums. If you want to see cute things, go to the zoo or the Disney Store. But in an art museum, the cute is almost always step one in a cute-creepy one-two punch. You’re lulled into a false sense of security—Finally, some cute kitty drawings!—and then you get walloped with the disturbing— It’s eating a baby! Or again with the penises. Just be careful.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Gone are the days when museum gift shops were wastelands of boring books and postcards. Now gift shops are just glorified toy stores. The Met has cute mummy books. MoMA has coloring sets inspired by Rothko. The Guggenheim has special Frank Lloyd Wright LEGOs. I’d bet you have to go somewhere seriously tragic to avoid toys, like the September 11 Museum or the Holocaust Museum, though I haven’t tested that theory yet.

And a lot of these toys your kid is begging for are so gunked up with learning that you know they won’t be any fun. Warhol soup-can print-making kits may seem fun, but making pop art is harder than it looks. We’ve got a REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup problem: We’ve all become so insistent on toys having educational value that now you can’t have educational value without toys! You got your education in my toy! You got your toy in my education!

But even if real museums are hard to navigate sometimes, what can you do? Go back to a children’s museum?

Man vs. Child by Doug Moe

Doug Moe is a longtime teacher and resident performer at the legendary Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, and he has appeared in such television shows as Inside Amy Schumer and 30 Rock. He’s a creator of the blog manvschild.com and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. 

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