It seems like most of the articles, books, and blogs I read on teaching in art museums focus primarily on the methods gallery educators employ to facilitate for visitors what John Dewey would say is “AN experience” with a work of art (See “Art as Experience”). But where do all the studio experiences that museum educators provide fit in? What about the various institutions that staff or contract Teaching Artists? Should we be considering the art making experience in the museum as an integral part of having “AN experience” with a work of art?
We all have it in our museum repertoire, and have in some way, shape, or form created artworks with visitors in museums — from a small gallery sketch to a full blown painting workshop. The recent New York Times article “Museums Expand their Educational Offerings” highlights a few museums that have added certain kinds of courses or workshops to their list. And, historically, museums have been spaces where art is not only looked at, but made. Many art museums began as places where art students studied the ‘originals’ or from casts of Greek and Roman sculpture. Take for example the The School at the Art Institute of Chicago, that has its roots in the 1866 founding of the Chicago Academy of Design, which local artists established in rented rooms in downtown Chicago apartments. In 1878, the relocated and renamed Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, expanded its mission beyond education and exhibitions to include collecting, and in 1882 the academy was renamed the Art Institute of Chicago. In this case, and in many other cases of the older encyclopedic museums in our country, art making was a large draw for artists who were a regular visitor core for the institution.
I guess I’ve just been wondering — is studio practice still a central part of the educational experience at an art museum? And what is the value of adding an artistic, art-making element to these experiences?
I can only speak for myself as a former artist. I say “former” because I wouldn’t consider myself a practicing artist — although getting myself dressed everyday is my favorite and most active form of art expression. When I make works of art, either alongside looking at art or before or after an experience in the galleries, I think about those objects in a very different way. I think about how it is made, what materials the artist used, the difficulty creating the forms I see, its relationship to me, the world, my space, and the spaces of the gallery. I am clearly a visual learner, and by making and doing I am able to reflect on the process behind the object, the artist’s choices as well as his or her state of mind.
In the New York Times article (mentioned above), Wendy Woon, Deputy Director of Education at MoMA, remarks:
“in the 21st century, museums are well-placed as we move from consumption to innovation to stimulate ideas and creativity… In many ways it harks back to the history of MoMA: a place where conversations with artists, architects, designers and the public take place and where art is made.”
Agreed. Museums have changed from places that collect stuff (utterly oversimplified, I know) to places where people go to learn about that stuff and now, back to in this place that exhibits work BECAUSE of the experiences that are had by visitors — quiet contemplation, sharing and talking, making and doing.
Do you think art making is an important part of an art museum experience? Why or why not? Keep the conversation going with me on twitter @lsmilow – use #artsed #museumed and #artmuseumteaching or comment here.