Last week I accompanied seven, fifth through eighth-graders and five high school students to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Once in inside, I asked for a show of hands of those who had already been there and not one hand went up. I was stunned.
As we toured the museum --- and even though I thought I would have a heart attack when a few of the kids got way too close to several pieces of art --- I believe that I learned more about the condition of urban youth and the arts than what those kids may have learned about art and history.
"Why are they naked?!" I heard over and over in squealing tones of laughter and giggling.
"It was very common to create statues and to paint portraits like that," I would say uncomfortable by their innocence, ignorance and loud inquiries. "Ohhh.... that's nasty!" some replied pointing to the "private parts" of some of the most beautiful and renowned pieces of art in the world.
"You haven't learned about this in school?" I wanted to know and they would shake their heads no. I kept looking at them and wondering what in the world was going on and how could that be --- especially with the 16- and 17-year-old students. Why had they not been exposed to this world-class museum, that sat only a few miles from where most of them lived and it was free?
I've been blessed to be able to send my children to private school where the teaching of the arts is still important. And when I home-schooled, I made sure that my children's lessons included art and art history. We went to museums and we got books at the library and we rented movies about great painters. On my walls were (and are still) copies of Monet and Cassatt. When Miss P was about ten or so, she questioned me extensively about the Girl with the Pearl Earring and there I was with teenagers who didn't know the difference between a Renoir and a Warhol. By the end of the field trip, I was saddened and distressd by the lack of opportunity these children had and I was frustrated and angry with our school system.
Later that day when I got home, I looked Sir Richard's attempt at Matisse's Pot of Geraniums and realized that even though I sometimes feel like we don't have much, we are, in fact, living a privileged life.