Mothering young children and teaching teens gives me some great insight into Grown A$$ Adult behavior.
There’s a particular tone of voice my kids use when saying “I don’t get it!” or “I don’t know how!” <Sometimes> the frustrated confusion is genuine. But plop most young minds into a new situation and they engage with delightful wonder-full curiosity. This is why I so enjoy exploring the world with them.
Conversely, when they don’t want to engage, are feeling overwhelmed or tired, or if the the odds are stacked against their success, then these same kids will balk. They hesitate to immerse themselves and do not even want to try. This is when we hear the resistance in their voices.
All too often I hear that tone with adults when they approach a difficult to interpret artwork- from poetry to avante garde music and movies, and especially with abstract or non-representational visual work. How often they stand in a gallery tipping their heads nearly upside down in feigned exploration, declaring as a way of dismissing the challenge: I just don’t get it"!
Adults who are afraid of being judged or (gasp) wrong, -people who are beaten down into or in fact beating down the path of Correctness -these are the people loudly proclaim. People who are too tired to engage with their own feelings, or fear that emotions aren’t a worthy or acceptable means for connecting to the world- these people have fewer resources for exploring and understanding art.
When they say “My 5-year old could’ve made that!” or “That doesn’t look like anything to me!”, their tone implies is in fact unworthy of their time and energy. Or that, really, given their maturity and intellect, this means that the work is impossible to derive meaning from.
Really, however, I think the adults are expressing fatigue and fear. Such artwork defies rules and objective answers. Engaging with such work is personal, subjective, and inventive. Tired, scared adults don’t want to do the work of feeling their feelings, putting words to these, and the discomfort of sharing them. Maybe they need a hug and be sent in to take a nap!!