Sunday journalling prompt
Close encounters with art
I was moved this week to see the unveiling of Chris Ofili’s new tribute to the Grenfell Tower disaster - and to the young artist who numbered among the dead, Khadija Saye - a giant, colourful mural wrapping around Tate Britain’s North Staircase.
I worked at the Tate in my late twenties, taking school children into the galleries to write. It was a pretty wonderful job all told, not least because I often got to invite kids into a gallery for the first time in their lives. It took me a while to realise that I couldn’t take them to the art right away because they needed to spend some time experiencing the building first. Few of them had ever been anywhere so grand, and I had to make space for them to process it. They would reach the top of the spiral staircase that led up from the basement room full of lockers and trestle tables, and I would watch their jaws drop as they saw the domed ceilings and stone pillars. It became my favourite moment of the day.
I appilied for the job at Tate because my own first experience of an art gallery had been there too. Taken on a school trip in my second year of high school, I saw what I now realise was an iconic selection of paintings: Dali’s Metamorophsis of Narcissus, Rosetti’s Proserpine, a Turner that I don’t remember, Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red. A guide patiently explained the story behind each painting, the movement it represented, how to look at it, why it mattered. I came home feeling like I’d opened a new door in my mind, downloaded a whole new toolkit. I loved the idea of passing that on, but with a different set of permissions: my young guests were allowed to write, too; to make their own response.
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