Does knowing the truth of childhood bring us closer to the truth of human nature? Is childhood a separate universe—or merely adulthood in miniature? Throughout history, notions of childhood have vacillated between the idea that childhood is a wonderful world alien to grownups and the idea that childhood is at best an embarrassing prelude to the real world of maturity..
Is childhood a kind of Edenic innocence, as poets like Wordsworth believed? Or is childhood a vessel of original sin, as some religions preach? Wordsworth said of our birth that we arrive "Trailing clouds of glory/From God... Heaven lies about us in our infancy." But as we experience more of life, "Shades of the prison-house begin to close."
The phrase "innocence and experience" comes from the poet and artist William Blake, who held that innocence and experience show "the two contrary states of the human soul." Blake perceived both joy and anguish in our childhood: "My mother groaned! My father wept. Into the dangerous world I leapt."
Most of the prints, photographs and paintings in this exhibition come from the rich and varied collection of The Fralin Museum. These images of childhood innocence and experience—"the two contrary states of the human soul"—range from an Italian old master like Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, to contemporary artists like Tina Barney and Susan Bacik. Changing artistic styles through the centuries express both the Edenic and the tragic aspects of childhood. Mary Kalergis presents us with the stark heroism of parents struggling for the life of their child. Augusta Savage, in her sculpture of a Harlem street-smart boy, proves that childhood courage may triumph over poverty. Many of the works explore the tragi-comic nature of the relationship between adults and children. Other artists in this exhibition include Luca Giordano, Francisco de Goya, Eugène Atget, James McNeill Whistler, W. Eugene Smith, Sally Mann, and many more, presenting a treasure trove of childhood.
The Fralin Museum of Art's programming is made possible by the generous support of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Arts$, the Suzanne Foley Endowment Fund, WTJU 91.1 FM albemarle magazine, and Ivy Publications LLC's Charlottesville Welcome Book.