There are two talents I wish I possessed: The first is musical ability and the second is artistic ability. I accepted the former way back in 7th grade when, after slaughtering “Clair du Lune” on my viola in orchestra, my dear friend Aimz explained to me that I am tone deaf. The latter came a few years later when I recognized that no matter how much effort I put into drawing and painting, everything looked like sad, floppy flowers.
My lack of talent doesn’t prevent me from enjoying music and art, nor from trying to introduce my kids to these pursuits. They’ve taken art classes in the past, and Gus in particular has shown some natural talent. Niko actually sat through most of The Barber of Seville with me when it aired recently on PBS.
I’m trying to instill in both of them that art museums are amazingly fun places. Apparently I labor under the belief my two straight little boys are a couple of old women visiting the Met. They prefer to race through the art museums we’ve visited looking for gore-filled paintings. I blame Kelly; he could tour the Louvre in 15 minutes flat. Rather ironic for a man whose mother was a recognized landscape artist and exhibited in museums around the Mountain West.
My first trip with the boys to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah almost caused me to abandon all hope that they could possibly become connoisseurs of visual beauty. In fact, these several years later, I remain amazed we weren’t tossed out on our heads.
Actually, our trip started harmlessly enough. The boys were still quite young, so I knew it was useless to try to engage them in a discussion about the play of light or composition of various pieces of work. However, when we came to the modern, experimental section of the museum, Gus took a look at a sculpture consisting of FedEx boxes and correspondingly-sized shattered Plexiglas squares, and observed, “That’s just a bunch of boxes and broken glass. How is it art?” A pretty perceptive question for an 8-year-old, I thought.
Our issues began as we left the hall containing masks, boats and fetishes from the Pacific region. I had managed to dodge having to explain several ginormous phalluses on various pieces from Papua New Guinea, so I was lulled into a false sense of security. But as we rounded the corner and entered the section featuring works from South Asia, Niko came face to butt with a dancing Shiva. He looked at the statuette’s derriere and burst into uncontrollable laughter. Gus followed suit.
A few matronly-looking women glanced over at the dad alone with two howling-with-laughter kids and smiled politely as if to say, “what did you expect?” For my part, I hustled the boys into the hall featuring Dutch and Flemish paintings in an attempt to squelch the giggles.
But I was doomed: the first painting we stumbled across was “The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child” from the school of Peter Paul Reubens. Niko took one look at the painting and shouted, “Boobie!” That in turn caused Gus to screech with laughter.
My efforts to gain control of the situation by admonishing my boys for laughing at the Holy Virgin Mary didn’t help at all. Now they were bent over guffawing.
The situation has improved dramatically since our first visit. Both boys are now looking a bit deeper at the art they see. But a certain painting of the Baby Jesus getting a squirt of milk still sends them into fits of giggles. Hey, at least they’re having fun!