don’t touch it don’t touch it don’t touch it don’t touch it why is he touching it?

This week’s lesson was a lesson learned for life, or at least for the next 15 years or so. It is this:

boys + abstract art installment = disaster

Yes, I said abstract art installment. Oh, you’re not familiar, not having many abstract art installments in your life? Let me explain how two boys and I came to the doorway of an abstract art installment and then proceeded to try to break it.
We spent a lovely morning at the children’s museum, where you can touch EVERYTHING.

Touched it!

We then had a lovely lunch at Noodles, where if you stay out of the kitchen and other people’s’ plates, you can touch EVERYTHING. We had some time to kill before the bus came (once again, save the bus driver, the floor, and other passengers, you can touch EVERYTHING).
Middle looked out the window and spotted a gorgeous glass building gleaming in the sun across the street from the restaurant. If you aren’t from Madison, or spend much time walking State Street, this is the Overture Center. More specifically, this is the Newish Modern Art Museum (there are actually way more letters in the acronym). We can either catch the bus in less than five minutes or over a half hour. THere’s pretty much no chance we’ll make the first one, so why not go across the street. Expose the boys to a little culture. I figured this was a safe place to visit since it was written up in Madison Magazine as a great place to expose kids to the arts. Ha.

"Mom? Can we touch the steps?"

The ground floor started off alright. There was a gallery filled with artwork from local kids, so it was somewhat interesting to them. The three-dimensional pieces are housed in glass cases, set on top of large cube-like pedestals. When you are 3 and short, it is hard to get a good look at something that’s essentially at your forehead level, unless you stand on your toes and brace yourself against something solid, say like a large solid pedestal. We were immediately reprimanded by a volunteer docent (let’s call him, Docent Don’t Touch That). Not only can you not touch the art, or the glass or the wall (which Middle pointed out wisely, are just plain walls), you also can’t touch the pedestals. He followed us around the gallery to see if we touched the pedestals. At one point, Little forgot (being 3 years old and all) and touched the pedestal! Gasp, Docent Don’t Touch That put his hands on Little and moved him away from the pedestal. Being my boy, he gave the Docent his “look of death” and I’m sure vowed never to speak to him again.

This is just the beginning, up a glass flight of stairs is another gallery. I can tell before we open the door, it is not for us. Freestanding pieces of “art” all around the room at child level. Middle is insistent, he must see it.

Side note: I’m super liberal and arty farty and all that, but since when does a bundle of dirty clothes tied up like a bunch of old newspapers constitute art? Just wondering.

They actually do a pretty good job not touching the ART, until we come upon a room. The Docent in this gallery says, “Take your shoes off if you want to go in this one.” What harm could they possibly do in a self-contained room? Well, when you’re talking about an ART INSTALLATION, apparently a lot.

This room IS a piece of art. When you enter the room, you are surrounded by art. You are stepping on art. There is art on the walls and cushions on milk crates that are art all over. There is an automatic doorbell that dings when you go in, or out, or in again, or out… you get it.
There is also a TV mounted to the wall and on that TV is a disturbing video loop of the “artist” creating a piece of art by actually bundling herself into the bundle of dirty clothes until she is tied up in the clothes. Arty, huh?
At this point, how many times would you say these boys have heard these words? DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. I’m guessing up into the hundreds, it’s become like an “om” chant for me over the last half hour.

I will use my super strength to destroy you- Art Installation! Evil laugh

What does middle do? Walks over to the TV (over all that ART!!) and starts pushing buttons. My “om” chant rises several decibels in volume and urgency as he pushes some button that stops the disturbing video and instead plays a green screen with some sort of menu options on it. The kind of stuff that shows up on your TV at home and you say, “Oh Shit! Who pressed something?”

Middle has broken the art installation.

I hiss at him to come to me quickly across the art covered floor and through the doorbell chime.
“I just wanted to watch it again.” that is his reason for TOUCHING the ART.
We quickly put on our shoes and book it out of the gallery. I notice over my shoulder that an older docent already has her shoes in her hand, ready to repair the damage we have done through our art appreciation.

So this week’s question is: Why is he touching it? You know after hearing TEN THOUSAND times that he should not TOUCH it. Once again this week I turn to a few passages in The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine.

Here’s what I found out: By the age of 7 months, a boy can tell by a well-known grown-up’s face (not like Johnny Depp’s, like his mother’s) when she is scared or mad. But, by the time he is a year old he is IMMUNE to those looks and can easily ignore them. For girls the opposite is true. Risk-taking behavior is like ingrained in boys’ brains. “Mom doesn’t want me to TOUCH it? Then by God, I’ll touch it and touch it good.” My “om” chants of don’t touch that were like calls to battle for MIddle. The more I said STOP, the more he said, “hmmmm. Intriguing. I think I’ll do the opposite.”
So Brezandine’s conclusion, based on pages of research citations, is that the brains of young boys are actually driven by the thrill of doing something they aren’t supposed to, despite the risk of punishment. (pp. 14-15)


Who me? batting eyelashes, coy smile

All in all, I guess what the wise Louann is saying is, “Don’t take your boys to an art installation unless they have a grave and healthy respect for abstract art and piles of dirty laundry bundled together in cubes.”
Once again, she’s right.


4 Responses to “don’t touch it don’t touch it don’t touch it don’t touch it why is he touching it?”

  1. March 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I can totally relate to their desire to touch stuff, even if I shouldn’t be touching it. I still do it as an adult. My mind says “Your silly rules about not touching do not apply to me.”

    Apparently in the Maasai tribe in Africa there is no such word as “No”, as in, “No, you should not touch that!” In the movie Babies, The African baby gets to do whatever he wants! I’m kind of envious of him.

  2. March 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I laughed out loud reading this! I took my boys to the New Museum in Lower Manhattan one afternoon, and actually thought we were doing a great job of being very respectful of the art, and I thought I was being a model mama, keeping my boys in line (though I was a ball of nerves the whole time we walked around) especially compared to some of the other kids tearing through the galleries.
    Then we came to a room where a table and chairs was set up with paper and crayons on it. My 2 year old, went right for it. Climbed up on the chair and got ready to draw. I didn’t stop him. I thought- table, chairs, crayons, paper- clearly they have thoughtfully set up an activity station for children, to respond to all of the amazing art they have seen today. (How nice!)
    A HORRIFIED docent came running up to us SCREAMING.
    It was actually an installation. Paper, crayons, chairs, table….. the whole thing was art, and I, the most horrible example of lax motherhood, had allowed my child to climb on the art and disturb the careful arrangement of the installation.
    Needless to say, we are never going there evereverEVER again.
    Good luck to you.
    And thanks for the hilarious yet informative post!

    • March 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      I would have done the exact same thing. In fact at this museum there was a kids center that was much like you described. Ironically, the boys wouldn’t touch it. Glad you’re reading and I’m not the only lax mother out there!

  3. March 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I’m sure he was just trying to fully experience the art.


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