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In response to the discussions about museum visits, I want to add my "two
cents." As an art museum educator I find the keys to creating a successful
- facilitating experiences which are relevant to the students' prior knowledge
and experiences (both in and out of school, although hopefully these are the
- informing the students before the visit about what they will see and why
they are going, otherwise the trip may be considered as a vacation,
- quality over quantity: in my experiences the students who spent truly
thoughtful and engaged time with fewer works rather than the walk-and-look
approach had more meaningful experiences.
With that said, let me throw in a few other thoughts for consideration:
- how is the classroom environment similar to a museum... There is a
collection of stuff, it supposedly relates and influences one another... the
classroom (and museum) is "nothing" without the students (viewers) who come to
learn, look, listen, challenge, discuss....
- bringing and starting with students' prior knowledge and experiences makes
them comfortable and should give them a sense of having a voice, an opinion,
an interpretation or opportunity to make their own meaning and sense of a work
of art... as we develop opinions (interpretations) we must justify our
reasons, and it is often fun to compare/contrast our opinions with others,
- Let us not forget that the museum exhibition is a "composition" open to
interpretation in and of itself! It can be interesting to question the
curator's choices and decisions, just as we do with an artist.
- as far as theory into practice... a few thoughts (which are, by the way,
forthcoming this spring in a handbook on museum ed. through Crystal Pub.):
- start off with warm ups... a few easy ones include: describe an apple...
bring an apple, pass it around, and ask each student to make a different
observation about it... this promotes looking carefully and multiple
interpretations. Another one is give them about one minute to look at a work
of art and then ask them to turn around... ask questions about what they saw
(and didn't see)... this again promotes careful looking and that we don't
always see as much as we think.
- when looking at sculptures, have students take poses, or have students take
turns "sculpting" one another into pose. What does the pose mean? What do
the gestures convey? How does the material reinforce or challenge the
- let them role play characters or shapes and forms.
- let them tell stories or write "letters" about a work either from their
perspective or through the "eyes" of a character in the work.
- Assign them different "lenses" to use while interpreting a work of art
(formal, feminist, sociocultural, interdisciplinary, etc.), try assigning
pairs these lenses to promote student interaction and discovery. As the group
shares it is interesting to note how different perspectives or lenses--just
like the ones we each have--color what we see.
Elizabeth B. Reese
Department of Art Education
Pennsylvania State University