Join Philip Yenawine for an in-depth discussion in this video Perspective from a museum educator, part of Visual Thinking Strategies.
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- I've spent most of my life as a museum educator. I started my career at the Metropolitan Museum. And I've worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And I was also the founding director of the Aspen Art Museum. My passion within that has been art. That's been the primary motivating factor but it's not art alone. It's art connecting to people. Very, very early on, I found a niche that I wanted to serve which was... It's all well in good to put the best art you can up on the walls but if it stops there, it's not enough because it's the communication between the visitor and the art that makes a difference.
And a lot of statistics, a lot of stories, indicate that people don't feel like they understand a lot of what museums show, in particularly, the more modern and contemporary it is. And there's also a lot of evidence that they don't look at anything very long. They walk through museums at quite a clip. And it's usually if they spend seconds on any single image, it's a long time. And quite often they'll spend more time looking at a label than they will actually at a picture itself. It occurred to me, a very, very long time ago, that that was not good enough.
That the business of pulling meaning from works of art took more time than that. You couldn't just glance, you had to look seriously. And you had to think about what you see. My first job, in a museum, was working with high school students, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Like most museums at the time it had a very, very modest program for adolescences. It was mostly responding to teacher requests for visits from suburban high schools. Where they brought the kids for whatever purposes that they had in the museum.
Usually something related to the curriculum. The kids arrived pretty bored. And when you tried to teach what the teacher asked you to do, you often had experiences like "Well, looking at this Greek pot." Which is what the teacher had asked me to showcase for them. "What scene would you suggest this is "from the myth that you just studied?" Silence... "Well what character do you think might be depicted here?" I asked the teacher shortly thereafter "Didn't you tell me that you taught them Greek Myths?" She said "Well I taught them, they just didn't learn it." So over the course of time, as I became more and more concerned with trying make beginning viewers make meaningful connections of works of art.
I realized that you needed to activate a process with them of looking. You could ask them to look at line and shape. You could ask them to look at composition and other sorts of issues. But they weren't necessarily things with which they were familiar outside the museum. So as a consequence, they didn't learn skills from that.