Paint Job

Edgar Degas

You know, this weekend I had a moment that was the adult equivalent of a child discovering that Santa is really the cackling Grim Reaper dressed as a jolly fat Norseman. I became so distressed at what I’m about to tell you that security guards circled me for a good fifteen minutes before I was considered safe again for public consumption. You see, I went to The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square and discovered that sexism belonged not in the ancient paintings but in the uber-modern gift shop.

No shit. After wandering through the various rooms and wings of said gallery – and, frankly, feeling so awed and inspired that I actually had a moment of sobbage in front of Van Gough’s crabs – I lurched into the gift shop. And that was when the Grim Reaper scuttled over to me and dropped his faux-festive sack at my feet. See, the book section of the gift shop included tomes for kids. The problem was that two of those books were entitled “Drawing, Doodling and Colouring for Girls” and “Drawing, Doodling and Colouring for Boys”. I won’t bore you with the content of said puss-boils because, sadly, you can guess what they contained.

What is in the giddy annals of fuckety fuck is The National Gallery actually thinking? That’s if it is thinking at all, of course. See, the place may be stuffed to wild heights of intellectual spaffage with experts, historians, archivists, curators and restorers yet it then goes on to commit a sexist crime of such imbecilic proportions that perhaps all of that canvas dating has persuaded them that it really is 1756.

Now, The National Gallery is a place of such wonder and magic that I can’t work out why it doesn’t have pipes actually pumping distilled inspiration out into the Thames. Thanks to its collection men, women, girls and boys alike wander through the centuries seeing the actual daubings of Turner, Canalleto, Rubens, Van Gough, Seurat, Monet and just about every other genius who has ever fingered a tube of flesh tint. It’s as if Willy Wonka got sick of fodder and turned his attention to canvas instead. Whether you’re sporting a foof or a schlong, it’s an utter wonderland.

So why, in the dizzy depths of Satan’s arse-marbles, do you get to the gift shop only to be told that said foofs and schlongs render some of this art for girls and some of it for boys? See, when I collapsed into the gift shop in a state of oil/ acrylic/ pencil based derangement my cranial nook was bouncing with lots of words but ‘gender’ was not one of them. That’s because up until this point I’d thought that gender had fuck all to do with producing art.

Imagine being a wonder-struck child mesmerised at the sights of the gallery, only to get to the book shelves and be told they have to check the contents of their gussetry before enjoying a certain type of artwork. It’s the equivalent of members of The National Gallery sniggering because the male Degas painted ballet dancers rather than monster trucks or because Monet plumped for waterlilies rather than wrestlers.

So does The National Gallery really believe that its visitors’ preferences for art are based on their gender? And if so why in the fuck is it pimping books that say exactly that?

That’s why the best thing The National Gallery can do is to remove the books that segregate art and burn them. If it wants to displaying great works in 100 years’ time it needs to tell children that when they pick up brushes it’s with imagination, passion and skill, not with those strands of DNA that rendered them male or female. If The National Gallery had the courage of its convictions then it could make great art too.

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6 Responses to Paint Job

  1. Jen says:

    This has made me enraged and inspired in one fell swoop. Thank you for letting people know there are people out there who don’t believe in this ridiculous, gender-bias shit. Let’s hope that enough people wake up and realise what a load of restrictive old cobblers it really is. Also, 100 internet points for the brilliant sentence ‘in the dizzy depths of Satan’s arse-marbles’.

  2. Becca Masters says:

    Couldn’t agree more!!!

  3. BlueGlassBoy says:

    Raising a solitary voice in defence of the “experts, historians, archivists, curators and restorers” (although not of the gift shop, because I do agree with you) – I don’t know their set-up, but my experience with institutions like TNG of any size, the gift shop is either run by franchised or sub-contracted staff, or else is a part of the organisation so far removed from the ‘professional’ or expert wing as to be interchangeable. The stock in the gift shops at, e.g., Warwick Castle, Glastonbury Abbey and Tower of London, are so broadly interchangeable that I have always suspected they just bulk order 17 shelves worth of tat without necessary checking the contents. Tiny lead-based siege weaponry has a multitude of applications…

    So there probably is a manager, deep within the bowels of the building, who has oversight of the shop, but I doubt very much whether any expert, historian, archivist, curator or restorer will have visited the gift shop or inspected its stock since the last time they felt the need for an Anne of Cleves mousemat or Rodin’s The Think novelty pencil gonk.

    Rant away at the shop procurement people for buying into it, or at the suppliers for continuing to publish such drivel, or even the consumers who, goll’darn it, just keep insist on buying it – they don’t know much about art, but they know what they like. But not the poor old gallery staff and art professionals, who I am sure are all nice, sweet, Guardian-reading, Kraken-following 24-carat liberals in the best tradition.

    Oh, and sexist or not, divisive or not, please please please NEVER recommend burning a book, however strong your antipathy to the contents. Remember Heinrich Hesse’s words – “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” (“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.”) And he was writing in 1821…

    • The Kraken says:

      You make some fine points there so thank you. I noticed that when I pinged my blog to the NG, NG shops had a different twitter addy (so I pinged it to them too). However, I do think there needs to be much more joined up thinking than that which has been displayed by these books in the gift shop. If the NG wants to create a complete experience, at the end of which everyone leaves been wildly excited by art, then it needs to take care of the details, including the books it flogs.

      As for book burning, I would happily set fire to anything that decrees that girls and boys like art for different reasons. And I say that as a woman who has a house that contains a few thousand books (really, we’re talking about several rooms with entire walls where books are double stacked to make space for them all), some of them being the wildly out of date (and therefore useless) books that got me through my degree over 20 years ago. Books are like a religion to me. Yet I’ll happily get out the Swan Vesta to rid the world anything that suggests that girls or boys can only like certain types of art.

      • BlueGlassBoy says:

        Wouldn’t dream of accusing you of being anti-book; you’re clearly a deeply literate and respectful writer. We’ll agree to differ on the book burnings…

        …although I might borrow a lucifer or two to incinerate a birthday card or million. This is my major ‘what’s suitable for boys/girls’ bete noire – particularly the assumption that if you wish to congratulate a male friend or relation on the anniversary of their birth, your usual choice is limited to cards smeared all over with a choice of golf clubs, vintage cars or footballs – your average ‘For Her’ cards, meanwhile, runs through the wide-ranging and extensive selection of pot plants, tea-cups and, Heaven help us, humorous reference to shoe collections. This, of course, is why I don’t buy pre-assigned Birthday Cards any more; I buy arty cards and write the message inside. As I say, that is a long standing focus of venom for me; and I suspect I’m leaning against an open door here.

        Oh, that felt better. I can see why you do this.

  4. Sceptical Mum says:

    I saw these same books in a book people catalogue a few days ago and was really surprised. I don’t see that a small child’s gender has much to do with what kind of they want to draw. I also couldn’t help thinking a doodle book is surely just a pad of paper!

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