I'm taking 6 months away from my day job to look after my son, Archie, who is now 7 months old. I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences.
After the success of last week's first trip to a museum we followed up this week with Archie's first trip to visit an art gallery. We went to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of the work of Damien Hirst (one of the UK's most successful contemporary artists). I didn't really have much expectation as I'm not a major fan of modern art but I had enough curiosity about his work to take a look - who wouldn't be interested in seeing a $12 million stuffed shark in formadehyde? If nothing else, the Tate Modern has one of the best internal spaces in London - the massive Turbine Hall (the building was formerly a power station) is five storeys tall with 3,400 square metres of floorspace and always worth a look.
The most intriguing thing about the exhibition, for me, was how Archie responded to it. My assumption was that he wouldn't understand much of what he was seeing but that there would at least be lots of visual stimulation for him. Had he been a bit older I may have thought twice about some of the content but at 7 months old I didn't have any worries. You know you're a city boy when you've been nearer to a vertically bisected dead cow in a case, than a real, living cow.
The biggest response that Archie had was to a number of Hirst's "spot paintings" (see above), a series of canvases of coloured circles arranged in a grid. When I wheeled his buggy up to the larger paintings he became more animated - smiling, burbling and obviously responding to the image. I tested this with other exhibits but didn't get anything like the same response. Was anything in the arrangement of the colours or the relative size or spacial arrangement of the circles that made the art 'special' or would the same circles in a random arrangement have the same effect? I guess there could be researchers out there looking to scientifically evaluate the value of art - perhaps there's a sort of Golden Ratio for coloured circles.
Much of the rest of the exhibition provoked less of a reaction from either Archie or myself. The aforementioned shark and calf held a both a biological and morbid interest and one room contained a load of live butterflies that reminded me of my own childhood visit to a butterfly farm but most of it left me kind of cold.
My wife hadn't seen my earlier experiment with the spot paintings so when I saw another example I wheeled Archie up in front of it. He initially responed with a smile and some more burbles but those then turned into a series of loud, high pitched screams (one of the new tricks he's learned)! At that point we decided to make a smart exit from the exhibition. If there was anything good in the last few rooms, other than startled visitors, then we missed it.
Lesson learned: #1. Art galleries can be good for visually stimulating babies, #2. Highly stimulated babies aren't always good for art galleries.