Tag Archives: writing

Mind the Gap: Art Museum Education, Academia & the Future of Our Field

Written by Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Palmer Museum of Art

Keynote Address as National Museum Education Art Educator of the Year, Museum Division Awards Ceremony, NAEA National Convention, March 26, 2015

I would like to begin by thanking the National Art Education Association, the leadership and members of the Museum Education Division, and the colleagues who so kindly nominated me for this award, including Dr. B. Stephen Carpenter at Penn State and Dr. Leslie Gates at Millersville University, both of whom are inspiring educators and supportive colleagues. I would also like to thank Dr. Pat Villeneuve, my mentor from the very beginning of my journey into art museum education who nurtured my interests and provided guidance when I was a (perhaps overly-eager) graduate student at the University of Kansas in the mid-1990s.

What would happen if we reconceptualized writing as an important part of our praxis and practice, and re-prioritized the sharing of information as a necessity rather than viewing it as a luxury? What impact would that have on our field?

I am really proud to see other profoundly dedicated art museum educators in the room who started their careers around the same time as I did, including Amanda Martin-Hamon, Kristina Walker from the Spencer Museum of Art, and Ann Rowson Love at Florida State University. I would be terribly remiss if I did not also thank my incredibly supportive spouse, who is at this time taking care of our two children while I enjoy a brief respite from a Northeastern “spring” in the company of a few thousand fellow art educators. Lassiez le bon temps ruler!

Immediately after it was announced that I won this award, a friend messaged me a note of hearty congratulations and asked if there were any prizes that came along with the award or if it just came with undying fame and glory, at which point I recalled the awards ceremony from last year and realized that the prize with this particular award is the opportunity to share a few thoughts with fellow art museum educators about our field. And then I realized that rambling comments probably wouldn’t cut it and that I needed to really hone in on one subject that I care about—which is, in fact, harder than I thought it would be.

This is my 19th NAEA conference. My first conference was right here in New Orleans. I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas in art education with a concentration in Art Museum Education and I recall flipping through the convention book meticulously, noting the museum division presentations, highlighting the higher education offerings and really struggling over which ones I should be attending. As a graduate student, I wanted to hear from the professors and researchers who were theorizing the field, but as a future practitioner, I was eager to learn from those who were doing the work that I desperately wished to do. It was a quandary deeply felt: which sessions should take precedence? And why?

Even still, thoughts about the relationship between the fields of art museum education and academia are never terribly far from my mind, mostly because I went through the process of earning a doctoral degree in art education, I work at a university art museum, and I teach courses under the auspices of an art education program and an art history department. These thoughts have returned to the forefront lately as a result of a few separate but related events:

First, I am currently co-editing a book on professional development opportunities as they occur in the art museum context, particularly those that utilize contemporary art, which is something I don’t know that I ever would have considered without the suggestion and encouragement of my co-author, who is a tenured professor and whose favorite phrase is “you should be writing about this!” In the conversations that provided the impetus for the book proposal, I recall saying that I thought there were a number of really important voices that simply weren’t being heard because, as art museum educators, we are neither required nor encouraged to publish in the same way as our curatorial counterparts. Art museum educators in general don’t have the luxury of time to reflect on their work, much less write about it, either formally or informally. The problem is that our silence cannot build a foundation for our newest colleagues or expand the understandings of our more seasoned peers.

Second, because very recently on Twitter, Mike Murawski brought me in on a conversation with Michelle Grohe, Elizabeth Nevins, and Susan Spero about who, exactly, is writing about the theory and practice of our field, what resources are necessary to enable a broader discussion to take place, and whether or not we should ditch the “old, outdated hierarchies of publishing, knowledge, and authority.” Arguably, both digital and traditional publishing are valuable—even the academy is rethinking its relationship with digital publishing, mostly through digital humanities. In our field, ArtMuseumTeaching.com has emerged as a vital space to exchange ideas and share resources. I’m proud to be a part of it even in very small ways because it helps to fill a longstanding need for a community of practice amongst geographically dispersed art museum educators. I should also mention here the monthly Google Hangout peer-to-peer initiative of the NAEA Museum Division, which is a great way to hear other art museum educators talk about salient issues. But I also worry that we are neglecting a commitment to the broader, more rigorous practice of academic writing at our own peril.

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0  (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0)

Third, in the recent past I began serving on committees with masters and doctoral students in art education who are interested in the field, which lead me to consider more carefully the ways in which art museum educators are prepared for their careers. I want to be clear that I don’t think that there is any one best path to becoming an art museum educator—the field is too diverse and museums are incredibly complex institutions. As I understand it, the most common academic paths for our field include masters’ level degrees in art history, art education, or museum studies programs. Some universities offer minors, areas of concentration, or one-year certifications in museum education either in residence or online. Most of us had at least one internship at a museum. If you don’t mind indulging me with a bit of informal data-gathering, I would like to see a show of hands in order to get a sense of the professional preparation of those in the room.

Please raise your hands if you have a bachelors/masters/PhD?

In art education/art history/educational theory/curriculum & instruction/studio art/(other)?

How many of you did some sort of internship or professional preparatory experience in a museum?

Okay, now: many have published digitally/in peer-reviewed publications/in books?

"Library" by Stewart Butterfield, via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
“Library” by Stewart Butterfield, via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It seems clear that people who have spent this much time researching and writing required papers and masters theses are up to the challenge of writing—your backgrounds are more academically advanced and intellectually rigorous than most people in the workforce today. But if our conversations yesterday are any indication, the primary reason that we do not publish is a lack of time rather than a lack of interest. What would happen if we reconceptualized writing as an important part of our praxis and practice, and re-prioritized the sharing of information as a necessity rather than viewing it as a luxury? What impact would that have on our field?

The title of my talk is “mind the gap,” which, in addition to being a nice way to remind people to watch their step as they are getting on or off the train in Great Britain, is a call for us to attend to the separation between academia and our field. A few considerations that might inform our thoughts include:

  1. The field is moving away from having an academic home, even as more and more museums are asking for their high-level staff to have advanced degrees, including PhDs. These are widely available in art history, art education, and education. Is it time to consider which of these might be the most flexible, transdisciplinary, and appropriate space to situate our growing field?
  1. The people who teach classes that prepare art museum educators are most generally non-practitioners or individuals who have been out of the museum for a number of years, which is a reality for most academic fields, yet it concerns me nonetheless. Things change, in academia, in education, and museums. How can we as a field reconcile that our practitioners are not always part of the academic preparation of the newest generation of educators? Is it possible to change that, and how?
  1. Increasingly, foundations are interested in the professionalization of our field, notably the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Samuel Kress Foundation, both of whom support or provide seed money for post-graduate education experiences or positions in art museums. Both are genuinely interested in university art museums to the extent that they have commissioned and published online reports about them. We need to collectively harness the interest of a broader constituency and enliven the discourses within which we work. We must be a significant part of this discussion. The best way to do that is to write about and disseminate information on what we do and how we do it.
  1. Our professional organization cares about the research that we do. NAEA has a research commission with an agenda that “is designed to encourage and disseminate research communicating the value of visual arts education and its collective impact on students, schools, community, and society.”  They call particular attention to Professional Learning by stating “NAEA members across all divisions indicated a need for greater understanding of research methodologies and application of these methodologies for their teaching and research. Professional learning about research supports understanding of implications of research for practice and developing capacities for conducting research.” This is a call to all of us.

In short, I am asking us to “mind the gap” not only over a concern about the separation between theory and practice, but also because of the deep belief that we are the most qualified individuals to shape and mold our field. We owe it to the next generation of art museum educators, and we owe it to ourselves.

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Featured Header Image: “Mind the Gap” by Robert Donovan, via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Telling to Live: Testimonio as Educational Praxis

Preface by Betsy Andersen, Founding Director of Museo Eduardo Carrillo

At the start of 2013, Museo Eduardo Carrillo began to explore the potential of curating original exhibitions online.  We determined that our focus would be on mid-career artists whose engagement in their art continued well past their college years.  We drew inspiration from The International Museum of Women and Museo de las Mujers de Costa Rico who have long been pairing art with thoughtful essays.

Lorraine García-Nakata, "The Alchemist," Pastel on Paper, 29”x 30,” 2005
Lorraine García-Nakata, “The Alchemist,” Pastel on Paper, 29”x 30,” 2005

One of our goals was to allow the artist to select a writer who they felt would expand the experience of their art through the written word.  It has been a thrilling collaborative process. As one of few online museums and as the only artist endowed foundation to represent a Mexican American artist, innovation is part of Museo Eduardo Carrillo’s DNA.

When I began a conversation with San Francisco-based artist Lorraine Garcia-Nakata and Cornell University Associate Professor Ella Diaz the exhibition took on a new dimension.  In this partnership, the Museo would not only host an online exhibition and essay, but also extend the experience to Professor Diaz’s undergraduate students.  Her students would examine the art through the “testimonio” framework which was the focus of the class.  It was an innovative and forward thinking idea. And we welcomed it wholeheartedly.

Because Eduardo Carrillo was an influential artist and Professor of Art at University of California Santa Cruz for 25 years until his death at age 60 in 1997,  Museo has felt that part of our mission is to encourage scholarship in the next generation by giving those students an opportunity to have their work published. Because the essays were so thoughtful and well written under Professor Diaz’s guidance, Museo did publish them online and they remain in Museo’s “On View” archives with the exhibition Navigating by Hand: The Art of Lorraine Garcia-Nakata.

Future exhibitions include the work of artist Jose Lozano with an essay by Professor Dianna Santillano and The Duron Family collection with Professor KarenMary Davalos. We are looking ahead to furthering this experiment that Professor Diaz instigated.

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Written by Ella Diaz, Cornell University

Lorraine García-Nakata: Navigating By Hand, an online exhibition of historically important Chicana artist Lorraine García-Nakata, was launched at the Museo Eduardo Carrillo in November 2013. This retrospective sampling of work, spanning several decades, was seeded by a separate exhibit I curated for the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, that included her work. Over conversation, Lorraine and I found easy nexus regarding artistic practice as social change, public pedagogy, and Chicana aestheticism, evolving from 1960/1970s civil rights philosophies informing both professional and personal choices––values often absent in art institutions that default to viewing art minus the broader human context.

Lorraine García-Nakata, "Friends, No Matter What," Charcoal/Pastel On Paper, 7' x 4' 2” , 2008
Lorraine García-Nakata, “Friends, No Matter What,” Charcoal/Pastel On Paper, 7′ x 4′ 2” , 2008

When Lorraine asked me to write a curatorial statement for her solo exhibit, I agreed. The web-based format offered room for in-depth survey of her work that would identify and interpret its complexity and related cultural grounding. Being an artist, writer, and a museum professional, Lorraine shared that curatorial statements about artists of color often play it safe, hovering obvious descriptions of art, a historical idea, or repeating culturally flat references. Having read my published article, “Seeing is Believing: Visualizing Autobiography, Performing Testimonio: New Directions in Latina/o and Chicana/o Visual Aesthetic” (published 2011 in Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social), Lorraine appreciated my view of Latina/o and Chicana/o visual and performance artists who push autobiographical literary boundaries and testimonio by telling their stories as collective experience, bearing witness to sociopolitical and historical events in non-written forms.

Testimonio literature is integral to Latin American and Chicana/o and U.S. Latina/a literary canon, offering an individual’s story reflecting a whole community, urgent human circumstance, and significance/meaning of daily life. Having scheduled a 2013 fall course at Cornell University on testimonio, along with my conversations with Lorraine, I designed curriculum engaging literary testimonio and alternative visual and performing art forms that would test boundaries of this literary genre.

From I, Rigoberta Menchú (1984), a canonical testimonio, to Latina Feminist Group’s formative anthology, Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001), this course included testimonio as educational praxis, an important component of Chicano/a Studies pedagogy. Incorporating Lorraine’s body of work, the course linked to the Museo Eduardo Carrillo’s online exhibition launched in November 2013. After a semester of critical inquiry of the testimonio genre and visual analysis of 1960s and 1970s civil rights murals, students were adept in this literary form. With close review of Lorraine’s visual art and selected writings, students began writing (see Museo’s website archive) revealing how García-Nakata visualizes her story as a comprehensive experience, testifying to the power of everyday life. Students conveyed, in clear resonant voices, how Lorraine speaks to viewers through her life events, childhood innocence, hopes, vulnerability, desires in later years, and raising of children.

Student Photo: From left to right: Professor Ella Diaz, Sarah Proo, Ashley Elizondo, Carmen Martínez, Stephanie Martinez, Elizabeth Ferrie, Kerry Close, Eamari Bell, & Gabriela Leon. (Not pictured: Phoebe Houston)
Student Photo: From left to right: Professor Ella Diaz, Sarah Proo, Ashley Elizondo, Carmen Martínez, Stephanie Martinez, Elizabeth Ferrie, Kerry Close, Eamari Bell, & Gabriela Leon. (Not pictured: Phoebe Houston)

Working with an artist and a museum, I designed a dynamic, interdisciplinary pedagogy for students regarding genres of Latina/Chicana prose. Students considered ways we tell our stories beyond printed autobiography. Through interpretation of works by Lorraine Garcia-Nakata as narrative, they made insightful commentary that she digested and the public witnessed.

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Written by Lorraine García-Nakata, Artist        

Lorraine García-Nakata, "1950’s Self Portrait," Charcoal on Paper, 7’x 4’ 2”, 2008
Lorraine García-Nakata, “1950’s Self Portrait,” Charcoal on Paper, 7’x 4’ 2”, 2008

When young, I took myself through a disciplined process resulting in a clear understanding that my life required the creative process. From that point, it was never a question, rather a quest informing my life as an artist, parent, art/cultural specialist, and as a museum professional who introduced to the field progressive best practices linked to redefinitions of community, further evolution of curatorial and public programs, development of partnerships of mutual benefit and related reciprocity, and use of accurate terminology.

As Latino contemporary artistic work has become part of the broader aesthetic, I’ve expected research, interpretation, and related writing (from within and outside our culture) to delve the complexity of Latino cultures: Chicano(a), Uruguayan, Indigenous, Caribbean, Afro Cuban, Afro North American, other cultures of Latin America, and the growing population of mixed race contemporary youth that embrace all parts of their identity. I’ve also expected exhibitions to expand beyond, and not regularly default to, group or cultural holiday exhibits. When Cornell Professor Ella Diaz approached me about an exhibit focused on figurative art by women of color, I agreed to lend my work. As a next generation, first voice (from within the culture) scholar/curator, Ella was not afraid to critique periods of our contemporary Latino history (that later evolved), such as the gender-biased framework of early phases of the Chicano movement or initial perceptions/invisibility of our LGBT Latino population. Ella also possessed a capacity to witness, interpret, and scribe the nuance of my artistic work, which is not overt or linked to the “expected” Latino iconography or color palette.

When approached by the Museo Eduardo Carrillo regarding a solo online exhibition, I agreed only if Professor Diaz could write the curatorial statement. It also seemed important for the Museum Director, Betsy Andersen, and Ella to meet. An interpretive component was developed by Ella, which included a Cornell graduate seminar focused on my work. I was delighted that students would research my work in depth and produce individual writings. I was excited to read them. For an artist, museum exhibitions are important as well as research of one’s work by a key academic institution. Cornell student writings were published on the Museo’s website, adding another important educational/interpretive element. We all worked hard to mount this exhibit, and it was clearly of mutual benefit to the Museo, myself as artist, Professor Diaz as curator, and participating Cornell students. The online exhibition provided a multi-level experience for the viewing public and offered a forum for publishing research by our next generation scholars.

While I am active in the local/national community, my artistic work is not obvious or overt in its protest or politic, but it does testify. It also challenges assumptions about how we live, how we intend our action. Being an artist, writer, and musician can be solitary and hard work. It’s a responsibility. Yet, I have long since committed my life to this practice and it will continue to be how I navigate my life.

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Click the link below to read the essays written by nine undergraduate students at Cornell University who enrolled in Professor Ella Diaz’s fall 2013 course “Telling to Live: Critical Examinations of Testimonio.”

Read Essays from Cornell University Students

Lorraine García-Nakata, "Facio Nova Omnia II: Colonia" and "Facio Nova Omnia II: Indigena" (Diptych), Pastel on Paper, each 7’x 3’ 9” 2005
Lorraine García-Nakata, “Facio Nova Omnia II: Colonia” and “Facio Nova Omnia II: Indigena” (Diptych), Pastel on Paper, each 7’x 3’ 9” 2005

All Artwork ©2013 Lorraine García-Nakata protected under U.S. and International Law. Other than for exhibition related uses, no part of this material can be altered, reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner and artist, Lorraine García-Nakata/Lorraine García. This includes all rights now in existence or which may hereafter come into existence, including but not limited to authorship, documentation, lectures, or any other creation or presentation by Lorraine García-Nakata/ Lorraine García in any artistic medium, print, audio, electronic, video, CD ROM, photographic, digital, film, and any future medium.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

andersenBETSY ANDERSEN: Founding Director of Museo Eduardo Carrillo, created to extend the artist’s work and compassionate legacy into the world.  Andersen received her Bachelor of Arts from University of California, Santa Cruz.  Since that time she has enjoyed being the host of a radio interview show devoted to the visual arts and has explored producing documentaries on regional artists.

emd233ELLA MARIA DIAZ: earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, teaching several courses at William and Mary and developing the College’s first Chicana Literature course in spring 2005. Her research pertains to the interdependence of Chicano/a and U.S. Latino/a literary and visual cultures. Her dissertation, “Flying Under the Radar with The Royal Chicano Air Force: The Ongoing Politics of Space and Ethnic Identity” explores these intersections and, for this project, she received The College of William and Mary’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2010. She was a Lecturer in The School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute between 2006—2012. Her current book project explores the historical consciousness of a Chicano/a arts collective that produced major and canonical works of poetry, art, and literature. Diaz has published through Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, U.C. Santa Barbara’s ImaginArte, and in Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social.

Lorraine-garciaLORRAINE GARCÍA-NAKATA: Since 1973, Lorraine García-Nakata has been a “pilot” with the world-renowned Sacramento Chicano artist collective, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF). One of six original primary muralists, Lorraine was the only female artist asked to join her fellow pilots José Montoya, Esteban Villa, Juanishi Orosco, Stan Padilla, and Juan Cervantes in painting the renowned and historic South Side Mural located in Sacramento, California. Ms. García-Nakata is a recognized visual artist and has exhibited extensively since 1970 on a local, regional, national and international level. Adept in a range of visual arts medium, she is noted for her large-scale works in drawing and painting. Lorraine is also recognized for her command of mixed media, printmaking, installation work, ceramics, and sculpture.

Teaching for Independence: Empowering Learning in the Art Museum

Written by Mike Murawski

Prefatory Note: Before ArtMuseumTeaching.com went public, there were several months when it was simply my own personal (private) online space to reflect on my practice as well as larger issues around teaching and learning in museums.  It was (and is) so valuable to write about what we do as educators and museum practitioners, even without publicly sharing that writing.  Since the site went public back in February 2012, these reflections (along with those of nearly 2 dozen other practitioners) have been openly shared via this unique online ‘bazaar’ that spotlights practice — from million-dollar cutting-edge initiatives and multi-year projects to simple, personal reflections and moments to add one more teaching tool to our belts.  And while conferences such as the NAEA, AAM, and Museums & the Web — among others — can surface some truly incredible, thoughtful work happening in museums today (some of which has been highlighted on this site), it is also important to provide a space for reflections and conversation around a more daily teaching practice.  This post is an attempt to maintain those types of reflections on this site, and to encourage others to share their teaching & learning experiences as we continue to build this online community of practice.

A couple weeks ago here at the Portland Art Museum, I had a unique opportunity to work with a group of students visiting from neighboring Portland State University as part of their Freshman Inquiry course entitled “The Work of Art,” led by artist/educator Sarah Wolf Newlands.  This multidisciplinary course examines the ‘work’ that goes into artistic production, but goes way beyond that to explore the role art plays in our lives.  As the course site describes:

“It looks at the work art does in the world — how it shapes, reflects, disguises, complicates, challenges, or brings reality to our assumptions about the world…. What are the artistic levers with which we can move our world forward? What can looking through the lens of ‘art’ at the products from a broad range of disciplines reveal about ourselves, our culture[s] and our society? How does the art we do and the art we experience shape our identity? How does it disguise or reveal our essence, heal our hearts, and enable our joy? How does art influence cultural change? How can we use the arts to build community?”

bradford1

One of my own goals when working with groups of college students and adults in the galleries (and in the classroom) is always to break down the often rigid expectations of “what we do” in front of a work of art — moving past the assumptions that we need to behave a certain way or know something specific before we can have an experience with art. I also aim to teach for independence — an approach to our ‘work’ with art that empowers a participatory, learner-centered process of making meaning and attempts to break down the constructed hierarchies between teacher and learner, professor and student, expert and novice, institution and audience.

“The visitor’s response and experience come first, before the museum’s, before the history of art.” —Rika Burnham

For me, at its heart, teaching for independence asks that educators (whether in the museum, K-12 classroom, or university lecture hall) strive to facilitate deep, collective experiences with art that leave participants and learners better equipped to look, explore, question, and engage deeply on their own without always relying on the museum or an ‘expert’ to lead that process.

Opening Up the Learning Experience: An Hour with Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth

As the PSU students gathered in the gallery, we began with a quick discussion of “what does learning look like in an art museum” to establish an atmosphere of thinking and reflection.  Then, we dove head first into a 60-minute co-learning experience with a single work of art — Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth (2006). The experience was intended to be multi-modal, involving various ways of thinking and openly responding to the artwork in front of us– a process similar to other experiences about which I have written.

bradford3Here is a quick outline of our experience with Bradford’s piece  (and I always want to be clear that these tips and strategies are not ones that I necessarily invent, but are inspired by some of the ‘Jedi knights’ of museum education like Rika Burnham, to whom I am greatly indebted. I also do use some of these strategies repeatedly when I am in the galleries, since some are just exceptional ways to open-up an experience of freedom, comfort, creative looking, and excitement):

  1. Looking: We began with 1 minute of quiet looking, then having students share their initial observations with a person sitting next to them.  We followed that with another minute of quiet looking, this time using a paper tube as a telescope to see the artwork differently — followed by more sharing with their neighbors about anything new they noticed.
  2. Question: Students were asked to write down one question or wondering they had for this work of art.
  3. 60-Second Sketch: Everyone spread out across the gallery and then had 60 seconds to make a quick sketch of the entire artwork, filling their paper from edge to edge.  Students were asked to lay all of the sketches in the center of the gallery, walk around and see what others drew, and then select a sketch that interested them (and was not their own).
  4. Sketching with Language: Students had several minutes to “finish” the sketch they had selected, but by using only language — adding words, phrases, thoughts, and reflective writing directly on top of the drawing. I call this “sketching with language,” something pulled from Jack Kerouac and his creative process.
  5. Reading: In small groups, students shared their writing by reading it aloud– really honoring their writing by reading it directly instead of simply summarizing or paraphrasing it (which is what we too often do).
  6. Conversation Extender: By this point, students have had some serious time to look at Bradford’s work, share and exchange ideas about what they see and what they think about it, and do some sketching and writing to deepen or even shift their interpretations.  To extend their conversations and spark further thought, each group received a small packet of historic photographs from the 1921 Tulsa race riots — an event that historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” and an event that has been strongly connected to this work by Bradford.  Each group of students was simply asked to continue their conversation about the Bradford piece, yet to see how this added layer of historic images (powerful in their own right) might build or shift that conversation in any way. In talking about his own work, Bradford once says: “It’s about … tracing the ghost of cities past. It’s the pulling off of a layer and finding another underneath.”
  7. Group Discussion: During this entire experience thus far, students have been building personal meaning or sharing their ideas in pairs or small groups. So to wrap up, each group brings their thoughts and insights to the full class as we spend the last 10-15 minutes in an open discussion about the artwork and our experience with it.

Learning to See Learning in the Art Museum

For me, much of the experience with this group of college students was about empowering them to learn to see learning in an art museum (and with a work of art) differently — to begin to see looking and learning with art in a more active, participatory way that also allows for shared authority around knowledge and interpretation.  To help me gain a better understanding of how (or whether) this happens, I invited students participating in the experience described above to send me an email with their reflections after their museum visit. Here are a few great insights from their reflections:

collection of student sketches, questions, and writing in response to Bradford's "Scorched Earth"
collection of student sketches, questions, and writing in response to Bradford’s “Scorched Earth”

“Usually when I go to an art museum, the experience isn’t as fun and exciting. It’s hard for me to look at a work of art and really dissect it…. I probably will never get to just sit down in front of a work of art and analyze it with that many people again, and it was an awesome experience. Thank you for taking the time to teach our class fun tools that we can use in an art museum to really get the most out of our time there.”

“It was really cool to spend a solid hour just looking into what the piece could be about, what it could mean. I’m glad that you opened up the learning experience by allowing us to interpret the painting in our own way, then discuss with one other person, and then discuss in small groups. I think this allowed each student to really get the most out of what other students were understanding and interpreting from the work.”

“This experience was very enlightening because we learned so much from so little. It was profound to get so much out of little more than looking, thinking, and discussing.”

“It’s crazy how observing a piece for just a little longer than a glance can change your perspective of a piece and your understanding of it…. If more people were to do what we did today and take time to observe art, they would see it in totally new ways.”

This type of learner-centered, participatory meaning-making is something I continue to explore in the museum context, but I think it also has significant implications for how we conceive of art history teaching outside of the museum.  What if we allowed for more active, open-ended looking and exploration with art, and hold back some on the passive transfer of information?  What if we used drawing, movement, or creative writing as another way of looking deeply at art?  What if we really focused our teaching more on creating and supporting independent learners who see and think for themselves?

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This post has also been published online at Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), a streamlined, peer-populated teaching resources site sharing Art History Survey teaching materials between teachers and stimulating conversations around pedagogy in the arts. The site was initiated in 2011 by Michelle Jubin and Karen Shelby, products of the CUNY Graduate Teaching Fellows program.

A Manifesto for Schools Visiting Art Museums

An important aspect of our role as art museum educators is to welcome and induct teachers and their students into museum protocols in a way that is warm and inviting. There are so many ‘do’s and don’ts’ about visiting the museum it can make them intimidating places to visit and that’s not the message we want to send before they have even set foot in the place. We know how great they are and for so many reasons.

Photo by Michael Edson

I’ve been trying to think of ways to better support teachers and help them to prepare for their visit so that student gain the maximum value for their efforts in getting there. Teachers are busy and we need to be strategic about the information that we send out and request, so that everyone is prepared for an amazing and wonderful museum experience. The Getty Center has created a short introductory video and lesson plan so students know what to expect, which looks useful. I am mainly concerned that with all of the information we need to communicate. How do we expect teachers to cut through to the most vital material?

I’ve come up with some lists of items I consider to be important and would like to present it in the form of a manifesto.

How can we best prepare teachers and their students for their visit?

By making;

  • program offerings clear and concise
  • booking procedures easy to follow and not too complicated
  • it easy for teachers to let us know what their expectations are, for example; what is the context of the visit such as a broader unit of study, curriculum requirements or a fun end-of-term activity
  • our behavioural expectations explicit

How do we like teachers to be prepared?

We find that teachers can help to create more effective learning experiences at the museum for students when they;

  • have visited the museum independently prior to bringing the students and have seen the content of the exhibition(s)
  • know about the museums facilities, such as where to check-in when the group arrives, the best spots for lunch, and of course the toilets
  • have briefed accompanying teachers and chaperones about museum behaviour protocols and have the capacity to manage their allocated student group
  • understand that artworks are precious and fragile so students must behave in a respectful manner and teachers model these behaviours
  • understand that the museum is a shared space with other visitors and everyone is mindful of this
  • know that we don’t mind if a visit is at the beginning or end of a unit of study.

What are the things that can make a visit go from great to amazing?

When:

  • teachers have prepared students by telling them what they can expect to happen and what is expected of them on the day
  • students know they must leave their bags, drink bottles (and mobile phones) in the bag room
  • teachers supervise their students in small groups in the museum
  • students have empty hands, helping them to listen and focus their attention, to be completely ‘in the moment’ whilst we are in conversation and showing them through the gallery
  • students ask lots of questions about artworks and the museum
  • worksheets are designed so that students are engaging directly with the experience of being in the gallery and not looking for facts they can find on the website (which can be good preparation or a follow-up activity to extend the value of a visit) and these are completed before or after the allocated time with an educator
  • the language used to discuss artworks is not completely new to the students and that even if they don’t know what the words mean, they can become part of their everyday language and expression
  • teachers trust us and our ability to encourage deep, rich, sophisticated conversations about a few artworks that requires moments of silence for time to think and look so students can make considered responses
  • when teachers have activities planned for the time outside their facilitated tour, independent activities might include observational sketching or writing tasks

How about from amazing to incredible?

By providing teachers with;

  • complementary tickets to visit prior to bringing their students
  • well designed booking forms
  • maps specifically designed for visiting school groups
  • an easily accessible bag room or cloaking facilities
  • somewhere dry and sheltered to enjoy a picnic lunch
  • suggested itineraries for how to structure a whole day visit
  • meaningful worksheets to give to their students that focus on self-reflection and observation using open ended questions and enhances the experience of being in an art museum
  • introductory lesson plans to use in class before the schools visit

Thank you for visiting and please come back with your family.

Teachers reasons for visiting art museums are complex and may range between taking students out on a treat, to meeting very specific curriculum goals as prescribed by departments of education. For some students the most that can be gained from an art museum experience is learning how to look at art, and learning that knowing what questions to ask is more important than being told the answers. I want teachers and students to understand that some artists challenge traditional ways of thinking and assumed societal conventions through the language of art and it is not to be dismissed because formal appreciation does not help us to understand it. Given that some research has shown that many children only experience the art museum during a school visit makes this an enormous learning experience and makes a museum visit all the more valuable and we need to go to the extra lengths to ensure these audiences are welcomed.

These lists are by no means conclusive so…

I would like to open up the conversation and really look forward to reading your comments about what should be added or omitted.

How do museum educators prepare visiting teachers and their students?
What is the experience of booking an education tour at your museum like?
Are videos useful to demonstrate what will happen or are there too many variables?

If museum-visiting-teachers are reading this, it would be terrific to get your perspective too.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  As ArtMuseumTeaching.com has been active now for more than 7 months with tens of thousands of readers, I always want to make sure we cover the full range of issues pertinent to our field and areas of practice. One area which has received little attention in the recent discourse (especially in key publications) has been our work as educators with our school communities — especially the nuts and bolts of developing transformative, meaningful experiences with students on tours. And I didn’t even need to make a call for posts, as several contributors recently submitted their own thoughts and reflections on this issue.  So I invite you to read this first post by Christine Healey who provides a working manifesto on school visits that we both hope opens up a dialogue on these matters.  This post followed by an additional reflection from Kate Sutlive who writes about her own practice in preparing for and leading inquiry-based school tours that introduce students to art. Enjoy, and as always, add your thoughts and perspectives to the mix.

Not Just for Field Trips Any More: 7 Ways to Ignite Learning at the Art Museum

[First posted at Ecology of Education, September 27, 2011]

When we, as educators, think back to our own school field trips to art museums, we tend to remember being paraded around the galleries, being talked at and given a lot of information, and … well, tuning out.  And let’s face it, this has not changed dramatically for most students today, who may still find themselves tuning out rather than tuning in during their museum visits.

Unfortunately, research has shown that the expectations teachers have for museum field trips come largely from their own (often less-than-stellar) experiences when they were students. Oftentimes, museums then work to offer tours that match these teacher expectations—providing the traditional “see everything” experience with little opportunity for open inquiry or deeper investigation. The resulting cycle does not allow much room for schools or museums to envision new possibilities for the learning that can occur during a visit to an art museum.

“Museums often struggle to understand the needs of schools, and teachers and students similarly struggle to understand the role they play accessing, interacting with, and learning from museums. In some ways, the expectations for learning that teachers bring to the museum may not match the possibilities available for learning at these non-school sites.” (Cordova & Murawski 2009)

While there continues to be what James Kisiel calls an “awkward marriage” between museums and schools, art museums are undoubtedly in a process of transformation in light of the demands and challenges of the 21st century. These institutions are working to become more relevant and to play a more essential role in the lives of students, teachers, and their communities. Striving to ignite learning and creative thinking rather than parading students around the galleries in an attempt to “see everything,” art museums across the country are working to serve as spaces where we can begin to see learning in new ways.

But what can teachers do to help transform what is possible during their art museum visit? How can we, as educators, better harness the powerful types of learning that can occur in the galleries of an art museum?  What follows are some guidelines to help begin thinking beyond the ‘field trip’ and to promote a broader vision of what learning can and ought to look like in an art museum.

7 Ways to Ignite Learning at the Art Museum

1.   Think about the art museum as different from your school classroom.

Museums are, after all, informal learning environments that are quite different from schools.  While teachers and students may sometimes think of museums as more restrictive and more information-centered, museums have spent decades working to ensure that they provide experiences that build on the strengths of more informal, out-of-school learning environments. Research shows that students have more positive experiences in museums when they are treated as something that is distinct from their school classroom experiences and do not involve worksheets, fill-in-the-blanks, and basic call-and-response teaching.

Along these lines, teachers can work to challenge museums to “do what they do best” and develop tours or programs that are not solely geared towards school-based content and curriculum standards. Museums are largely underutilized as spaces for connecting students with complex thinking, creativity, and multisensory learning, yet they can actually serve that purpose very well.  With an increasing body of research and practice showing the power of art museums to develop stronger thinking in our students, it only makes sense for schools and museums to make these experiences available.

2.   Be a learner yourself.

While teachers certainly spend a significant amount of time planning their lessons, managing their classrooms, and preparing for field trips, they rarely find time to treat themselves as learners—and being a learner is such a key aspect of being an effective teacher. When it comes to art museums, teachers sometimes only seek out the more conventional types of teacher programs where they will walk away with information about an area of the collection as well as handouts, lesson plans, and materials to use back in the classroom.  But the art museum can be an exceptional place for the personal and professional growth of teachers as learners.

When teachers engage in aesthetic experiences and hands-on activities at their museum as a learner, not just as a teacher, they model an authentic and infectious curiosity that influences how students interact with the art.  Take an art class, a workshop, or attend an evening concert and enjoy your art museum as more than a “field trip” location. When your students are participating in a tour or school program at the museum, participate yourself—take a sketchbook and draw with your students, or get involved in that art-making project that may capture your imagination as much as it does your students.’ As you begin to tap into the creative experiences possible at art museums, you are more likely to involve your students in similar activities during your visits with them.

3.   Get more involved.

Most art museums across the country have some type of teacher advisory board or committee, and they are constantly in search of teachers to help them stay connected to school communities.  Not only can this get a teacher more connected with the museum and their education staff, but there can be some additional benefits such as free memberships, shop discounts, special invitations to workshops or institutes, and free resources and materials.  And if your area art museum does not have a teacher advisory group, suggest working with them to start one and help get them connected with teachers in your area.  Also, get to know the museum education staff who can work with you to develop the best programs for your students, and can advise on how best to utilize the museum and its resources to motivate deeper learning.

Getting involved in these ways can help teachers take a central role in the planning and preparation for a museum visit, ensuring that the experience is a more positive and memorable one for students.

4.   Embrace freedom and choice.

Engage students in learning experiences where they have some element of choice and freedom. Overall, on our visit to the art museum, you might think more about what the students want to discover rather than just about what you want them to see. Free-choice learning can be a powerful way to get students to feel ownership over their museum experience, have a voice, and connect to what they see in more memorable ways. But stay away from scavenger hunts … please! While there are certainly ways to design a more effective scavenger hunt, it is better just to stay away from this format altogether.

Instead, think of a way to provide students with a real problem-solving or small group activity that invites more complex thinking and aspects of creative response that will be more meaningful to them. Try an activity that might motivate a student to select one artwork they are interested in exploring, and invite them to look more closely and connect to that object through their own personal experiences and interests.

5.   Get moving!

While art museums have not traditionally been places where kinesthetic learning has flourished, there has been a resurgence of movement activities occurring in the galleries.  Museum educators at an increasing number of art museums are facilitating movement techniques that can make the museum come alive for students. If you decide to add movement to your museum visit, however, just be sure to provide students with clear rules about what they can and cannot do (and it is always best to work directly with museum staff to facilitate your initial forays into this exciting and effective teaching strategy in the art museum).

As Shelley Weisberg writes in the most recent issue of the Journal of Museum Education: “Movement as an expressive tool offers connectivity for the visitor to museum objects.  Museums are a moving experience.”

6.   Get writing!

Art can inspire students to think creatively, use their imaginations, and generate some pretty fantastic creative writing.  For decades, art museums have served as exceptional places for student writing activities, with school programs at many museums offering such experiences for students across the grade levels. In recent years, several art museums have created new, useful resources for teachers that provide writing prompts and activities to engage students before, during, and after their visits to the art museum—among these being the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Looking to Write, Writing to Look” resource and the Weisman Art Museum’s “Artful Writing” materials.

Educator-led and self-guided visits that focus on creative writing can be extremely rewarding and productive for both teachers and students.  These creative activities also value the students’ response and allow them to express their own voice in a meaningful way.

7.   Think BIG.

When planning your next visit to the local art museum, get excited about the possibilities and think big. Challenge your art museum to collaborate with you to think outside the box, take risks, and co-create a dynamic experience that connects with the powerful learning that can happen in museums. Let’s begin to think beyond the ‘field trip’ and explore the art museum as a creative, innovative space for learning in the 21st century.

Warhol image: MOMA

Mask Image: CalState