A note, before I start: I had to do research and learn what the hell the difference is between Holland, the Netherlands and Denmark before writing this post. So obviously I am supposed to be writing right now.
Anyway. This picture’s making the rounds:
Here’s what you’re supposed to do: you’re supposed to look at this picture and go arr wharglebargle kids these days yarr, and be all mad. In case you don’t recognize it, that painting on the wall back there is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, which isn’t actually called that officially but whatever. The idea is that these kids– who look, to my eyes, to be maybe eighth- or ninth-graders, are in the presence of Priceless! Artwork! and instead of reverently gazing upon it they are daring to look at their phones. Horror! Terror! Decline of society! Wharrgarbl! Facebook is so angry about this, guys.
tl;dr version of this post: Oh shut up.
Longer version: Have you ever been in an art museum? I have. I’m terribly fond of the Art Institute of Chicago, for starters, and have been in several others. Do you happen to know what art museums are? They’re exhausting. Even if you’re grown, and you’re interested in art, they’re exhausting. It is entirely possible– I have done this!– to be a grown, educated adult who is interested in art and accidentally walk right past, oh, incredibly famous works of pointillist art that you’ve seen in a million places before and not even realize it because that is what art museums do to your brain. I have done this! It had to be pointed out to me that I was in the same room as that painting. And that painting is huge! It’s literally ten goddamn feet wide and I missed it.
So, yeah. First thing, then: Art museums are exhausting and those seats are there for a reason. So shut up. They are more exhausting when you’re fourteen.
Second thing: These kids are already almost certainly European– the museum is, after all, in Amsterdam– which means, as I consult my list of stereotypes, that they’re already smarter and more educated and Worldly than American kids anyway, and using a picture of some European kids to go arr wharglebargle blarg America RUINT!!!1!11!! is an especially obnoxiously American way to look at a picture. I guarantee a good 2/3 of the people complaining are convinced they’re looking at American kids.
Third thing: Here’s the room this painting is in at the Rijksmuseum:
You will note that they have provided quite a lot of seating space in this room. It’s almost as if you’re expected to want to sit down at some point. Here’s the same room from a slightly different angle, with people in it:
Note the old man on the right, sitting in nearly the same place the kids are and– argbjarglewharkleflarken!– checking his phone!
To continue the theme of Pictures, here’s a floor plan of the Rijksmuseum:
You can click on this to make it larger if you want; just know that the Night Watch is in the circled part at the top– and that the entrance to the museum is at the bottom. In other words, the painting is specifically and deliberately put in a place where you have to walk through most of the museum to get to it. So unless you proceed directly there immediately, you will have already Seen a Lot of Art by the time you get to the Night Watch room.
Here’s the thing: I have, on numerous occasions, taken fairly large groups of 7th and 8th graders on field trips to cultural destinations. Long field trips. Four day field trips. So I have a passing acquaintance with how kids behave on these types of things. Now, it is most likely that these particular kids are Hollish teenagers on a day trip of some sort, but it’s entirely possible that they’re from somewhere else and on a longer trip– and that, in other words, they’re probably exhausted by now. Even if this museum is ten minutes from their homes, they’re still probably tired by now.
Do you know what you do when you’re taking students to a museum? You let them go, and you tell them “We’re meeting in XXX place at XXX time.” You do not try and keep a big group of kids together for the entire time you’re in the museum. It doesn’t work. If possible, you break them into smaller groups and put each of them with a chaperone, but there’s generally nothing wrong with just letting them go. I’ve been doing this for years, literally, and have never had my kids get into any sort of bullshit while out in public. Sometimes they get a little loud. That’s it.
In other words: 1) There’s nothing wrong with sitting down in a museum; that museums, in fact, provide furniture for sitting, even in rooms with priceless works of art that one is expected to gaze reverently at for some length of time that an otherwise uninvolved denizen of the interwebs might deem appropriate; 2) It’s entirely possible that they’re sitting down because this is where they’re meeting everyone; 3) It’s also entirely possible– in fact, likely– that what a bunch of them are doing is showing each other pictures that they’ve taken during the trip, because not all of the museum is going to be a no-photography zone, and 4) stop being so judgy, asshole.
Lecture ends. I should probably do some work now.
I’ve gotten a heads-up that this post is about to get a bit more attention than usual, so forgive me for this, but: Hi! I’m Luther Siler. There is a lot more blog where this post came from, and you can find me on Twitter at @nfinitefreetime. I also write books about space gnomes and voyages to Mars that people have claimed to find amusing. You might too! Thanks for reading!