As I was walking through the Modern Wing of the Art Institute the other day, on the main walls kitty corner to two Mark Rothko paintings were huge white canvasses scattered with whimsical doodles. As I walked by on my way to Jackson Pollock, a man standing there bellowed,
-Third grade! Could you do this in third grade? I could do this in third grade. I should get out my third grade drawings and hang them in the art museum!”
The man was red faced and loud; he was angry. The security guard standing there said,
“Let me see if I can explain something to you. This art is a tribute to the imagination that children have but we lose in our adulthood. Do you know how huge children’s imaginations are? This painting invokes our child imagination; that’s my understanding of the art of it.”
The man continued to bellow, completely unheeding of what she said,
“Third grade art; you should be ashamed of yourself putting this shit on the walls of the museum. Absolute shit.”
Walking away, I was flustered. There was something besides the man’s philistinism that was bothering me, but his belligerence was distracting me from what it was. As I continued to walk through the museum, I realized that most of all I was offended by the assumption about the inferiority of children that was implicit in his diatribe, an assumption that weakens not only modern art appreciation. As the security guard insisted, youth does not equal deficiency.
If this angry man’s perspective is supposed to be better than that of a third grader, it makes me wonder what good an adult’s perspective is.