So these are some creepy images. How do you think children would react to them?
I think children will react with curiosity to the images within Damien Hirst's ABC. Yes, the images are bold, interesting and somewhat creepy. That's a nice mix for kids, and usually what they reach for on the shelf!
Some of these preview images scare us. Are there any images in particular that you think would be especially scary for kids?
No, I do not see any images that would be "scary" per se, particularly because many of these images are in museums around the world that children view regularly.
Do you think it would elicit conversations about art?
Absolutely. What I particularly enjoy discussing with my kids [who are] ages 10 and 12 is the titles of Damien's work, and how the intersection of the work and the title elicits many questions. For example, Hymn allowed us to discuss our gratitude for our own physical bodies and the complex systems involved in keeping us living and breathing.
Would the book would elicit conversations about death?
There may be particular images that elicit some discussion around death, such as the Away from the Flock -- the lamb in a tank of formaldehyde. Kids will be curious what happened to the lamb. The title of the piece is a good jumping off point because you can discuss what your children think happened to the lamb -- did it wander away from its mom and then a wolf attacked it? Let's face it, these are concepts found in nearly every Disney movie. Look at The Lion King!
Okay, okay -- fair point. Is a certain age range at which reading this book would be inappropriate?
No age is inappropriate. The bold images will engage the young kids learning their ABCs, while older kids will be intrigued by the more shocking images.
Would you by this book for your kids?
Hirst particularly loves Away from the Flock [the lamb in formaldehyde] and Hymn [the anatomical model]. What's up with that?
I do not know Hirst, but have read a bit about his past. It may be that the Away from the Flock is a beautifully painful expression of his own vulnerability of losing a parent. There is something serene about the lamb even though it is dead. The floating nature of his pieces in the tanks always remind me of the womb, which can both bring life and hold death. His love for Hymn may be two-fold: one, it represents a time from his own experience as a dad of wonderment through the eyes of his kids -- the moments when we teach our kids about life and how we physically stay alive as humans is a powerful experience. Two, I think his themes of life and death are captured simply and beautifully in the the title Hymn -- we're grateful for this life we have and we acknowledge the beautifully complex and fragile nature of our human bodies.
Do you think Hirst himself would have liked a book like this when he was little?
Yes, I think he would have liked this book, and I am sure his children absolutely love it as well.
What would your guidelines be for parents thinking about purchasing this book?
With younger kids in pre-school, I believe you simply use it as a teaching tool for the ABC's. And as they ask questions whether about the skull, the shark, or the lamb, you answer them honestly. "This is a dead shark in the moment of attack, and look at his sharp teeth!" With older children you can begin to discus art and use his book as a jumping off point. Helping your kids appreciate art in all forms is critical to their developing minds. Especially given our culture's continual de-funding of art education, as parents we need books like this to use as a spring-board for important topics.
All photos are courtesy of Other Criteria. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.