Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Opening a New Line of Communication in Art Education

This past Saturday, the Kemper Art Museum offered its first Teacher Workshop, "Connecting Contemporary Art to the Classroom." What a great experience -- meeting a range of teachers from across the state and from all grade levels, and really connecting on some core ideas about teaching with contemporary art. Our guest, Denise Gray (Senior Education Program Coord., L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art), was also able to bring some new perspectives to looking at art and teaching in the museum, esp. through other modes of learning (sound, movement, etc.).

I wanted to take this opportunity to use this blog as a new line of communication between those who attended the workshop, as well as anyone else interested in any of these topics. One conclusion of the workshop was definitely that there needs to be more channels of communication and sharing of ideas among teachers and educators. I hope that this blog can help to serve that function, and be at least one place for an open exchange of ideas, strategies, and new questions.

I'm going to be inviting the teachers who attended our recent workshop to post their own ideas and questions to this blog, allowing anyone to respond and continue these great conversations.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Where the Dems stand on Arts and Education . . . BUNKO!

While the talking heads have been busy debating which Democratic candidate might best respond to the "3 am phone call" and who best embodies "change" or "experience," I thought that it might be refreshing and somewhat interesting to bring arts education into the debate.

I read this interesting op-ed column at, which lays out some of the platforms presented by the Obama and Clinton campaigns on the importance of the arts and arts education. While it would be easy to dive into another tiring political back-and-forth between the candidates on this issue, I am much more interested (and so was this author) in how they justify the arts. Are the arts inherently valued as a goal in and of themselves, or do we need some sort of business justification or some other ends to argue for more arts funding? "Talk for Talk's Sake" by Allen Strouse

This past summer, I was lucky enough to meet and speak with renowned educator Philip Jackson, Professor Emeritus in Education and Psychology at the University of Chicago. I distinctly recall (and am unlikely to ever forget) his discussion of how important it was to teach art -- not because of what other skills it may enhance, or because of what other outcomes may result, but entirely because it is extremely valuable to learn art and experience the arts. He talked about the scores of existing studies that try to show how arts learning can transfer into other areas of learning (such as math and science), and Philip cried out "BUNKO!" Hence was born a mantra of sorts for a new generation of arts educators (or, at least a small group of museum educators desperate to invigorate their careers and professional goals with some new direction and passion).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Teaching in the Dark, and other stories from the Hirshhorn

This past weekend (Mar. 1-2), I was fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to Washington, DC, and visit the Hirshhorn Museum to see their new exhibition The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image, Part 1. First of all, what an excellent exhibition! My experience with those works of art will truly stick with me for some time (mostly due to the outstanding exhibition design -- kudos to the Hirshhorn: pretty much the entire exhibition space was pitch black, with walls, ceilings, and floors all painted black, and the video, film, and screen-based works were really able to draw your entire attention).

Learn more about THE CINEMA EFFECT exhibition by clicking here.

This brings me to my main issue: How does a museum educator design educational programming and gallery teaching in an exhibition that is completely dark? Glow in the dark gallery guides? Docents in black-light tee-shirts?

Well, I was also fortunate enough to meet with the Manager of Interpretive Program and Curatorial Research Associate at the Hirshhorn, Ryan Hill, during my visit. First of all, the Hirshhorn is now one of several art museums in the country adopting a strategy that has docents and gallery guides stationed within an exhibition, ready and willing to answer any visitors' questions as they are looking at the exhibition. I bumped in to one of these gallery guides as I stumbled through the darkness in "The Cinema Effect," and was able to ask about the piece I had just encountered in the previous gallery. They were able to provide some excellent background and context -- so overall, this seemed successful. Yet, how many museum visitors feel comfortable asking questions about art to a complete stranger (esp. in the dark)? Are people as likely to ask questions like "how do I look at this work" or "why is this in the exhibition"? During gallery discussions or educational programs, more of these types of big questions can be covered without visitors feeling slightly dumb asking them. Or can they?

Hill also confirmed my suspicion that many of their educational programs also occur outside of the darkened exhibition space itself, but then have people enter the galleries to see works that have either been prefaced by a docent/educator, or these discussions occur after a group has time to explore the exhibition. This is also a strategy that should be increasingly more common these days in art museums, especially when an exhibition involves time-based works that require a certain block of time from the viewer (and then discussion can follow, and then perhaps a final viewing of the work to make concrete connections with the discussion).

I still like the idea of teaching with glow sticks, or asking questions with a Lite-Brite ; )

Sunday, February 24, 2008

UC Course: The Art of Looking at Art, Week 3

Wow! This was such a great class, held at the Contemporary Art Museum. We had time to look closely and engage with the work of local contemporary artists Juan William Chavez and Michelle Oosterbaan. After having some great conversations in the galleries about their work, we were able to have the chance to meet these two artists and talk to them about their work. We also discussed the role of artist's intentions (and personal motivations for making their work) in the overall experience with the work.

An interesting quote from the gallery brochure:

"I invite the viewer to put his or her imprint on the isolated images--to apply multiple interpretations of work--an act that maintains a sense of mystery and curiosity and in the end increases the layers of the story's potential." -- Michelle Oosterbaan

I'd love to ask members of this class to continue any discussions from our meeting here (by adding Comments to any of these postings), or to add thoughts or ideas that you were not able to express during our class meetings.

UC Course: The Art of Looking at Art, Week 2

During our second meeting, we explored the work of Dan Flavin at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, and more closely examined the role of the museum space in our experience with art.

Some interesting quotes:

“Space is not just where things happen; things make space happen.” -- Brian O’Doherty

“I regard museums as spaces where one steps even deeper into society, from where one can scrutinize society.” – Olafur Eliasson

And, while the works of Dan Flavin draw our direct attention to the architectural space around us, I strongly encourage museum visitors to consider the salient role that the museum or gallery space itself has on our understanding of, and experience with, all works of art.

UC Course: The Art of Looking at Art, Week 1

Currently, I am teaching a University College short course on the process of “looking at art,” and we’ve been engaging in some exciting discussions about art and the role of the viewer/participant in our experiences with art. We’ve also been engaging in some open and interesting dialogues in the galleries about particular works of art. In fact, this class has been one of main motivating factors for finally developing this blog.

Week 1 Overview:

What is the “art” of looking at art? Is there such a thing? Does it matter? How should we approach modern and contemporary art? What are the elements of our “experience” with works of art?

We discussed the elements of the aesthetic experience, the importance of keeping an open mind when looking at art, and then engaged with a painting by contemporary artists Thaddeus Strode. I thought that the conversation we had in front of his work "Picket Fence" was very enjoyable and meaningful. We were able to "step up" to the painting as viewers, bringing our own experiences and stories to Strode's mixed-up and imaginative worlds.

In the exhibition's audio guide and podcast, Strode expresses his interest in the experience that happens "between the viewer and the painting, because then there's a whole new dialogue that happens . . . a whole new narrative that starts." "With any work of art, I believe there's a phenomenon that happens between the viewer and the work of art," Strode continues. "When you look at a work of art, there's something new that's built."

What is the 'Art Dialogues' blog?

As both an art museum educator and a constant museum visitor, I am perpetually interested in the issues of how people access and experience art. For some time now, I have been interested in creating an open forum for people to freely engage in dialogues about art education, teaching, and museum experiences. So here goes . . .

This blog is an attempt to provide such an open forum to explore issues of how we view and think about art, and how we teach and learn--extending these conversations beyond the walls of the museum. I see this blog as a unique opportunity to serve the following goals (and hopefully some that I'm not even aware of yet):
  • to open an ongoing dialogue about arts teaching and learning relevant to issues and concerns in the 21st century museum,
  • to move toward the act of conversation,
  • to connect with each other and with the community,
  • to see museums as creative sites of unplanned directions and multilayered interpretations,
  • to see art as a living activity in which everyone has the potential to participate.
I encourage everyone that finds their way to this blog to submit comments and participate in the discussions. Share your personal experiences and encounters with art, your concerns and questions about how museums interact with their audiences, and your thoughts and ideas that might help others view art and learning in a new light.