I went to sit in front of a Jenny Saville picture again yesterday.
I have visited Oxford a couple of times in the past few weeks, and on both occasions it has been my pleasure and privilege to pop into the Ashmolean, climb the couple of flights of stairs to the European Art Gallery and stroll down to where the two Jenny Saville pictures hang on either side of the room.
I sat for long periods of time, waiting for the lull in the crowd that would allow me to take a good, long, uninterrupted look at the work.
And that’s the thing.
People breezed past these most amazing of pictures, and I was astonished that was even possible. They glanced, and they clearly did not see what I saw. If they had, they would have stopped and stared, and their mouths would have hung open. They would have salivated and they would have coveted, just as I did.
I wondered what was wrong with people.
I wondered if there were things in the museum that would have left me cold, and, if I’m honest, I knew that there were.
I am not hugely, culturally, interested in things that I am not terribly familiar with. So, for example, I am more interested in the ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultures, that I learned a bit about in primary school, than I am in the Asian or South American cultures that I was introduced to rather later.
I am rather more interested in European art than I am in, for example, what might, loosely, be called, Commonwealth art.
I understand adults picking and choosing and breezing through the areas of the museum that interested them little or least. After all, when I entered the Ashmolean yesterday, it was with the express purpose of looking at Jenny Saville’s work and one of the two pictures in particular, so I can hardly judge anyone else who has developed a very particular interest.
It was the kids that really baffled me, though. I watched them. It seemed to me that children of all ages struggled to engage with just about anything.
I wonder if the toddlers in push-chairs might have looked a little further out at the World if the immediate environments of those push-chairs hadn’t been so busy with mobiles and things attached on coloured springs and luminous bungee bits and bobs, and if they hadn’t had their hands full of bright food-products to eat in order to keep them busy and quiet, and wrapped in hopelessly enclosed little bubble worlds of nothingness.
Of course, there comes a time when a child has to walk around, and then, when there was nothing left to restrain and entertain it, and to chew on, literally, all hell broke loose. There are no degrees by which a child learns to be civilised, no stepping stones to moderate behaviour.
It is to their credit, but it is also a wonder to me that so many kids turn into functioning, if disillusioned and often sad, young adults. Can we not do something more to engage them, and engage with them before we expect them to engage and engage with us? Please?