The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
What is an art museum? How can the viewer “read” a work of art as text? How do artists work?
Students participating in the exhibition tours engaged in conversation and discussion of artworks. Students considered the purpose of an art museum and cultivated an appreciation and understanding of different perspectives and ideas.
Through observation (close looking) and conversation students gain insight into the meaning of artworks by engaging in the process of art criticism and visual thinking strategies. Students deepen their understanding of art as artifact and text by relating artistic ideas and works with personal experience and cultural, societal and historical knowledge. Students express themselves freely, creating and sharing individual thoughts, listening to their peers and contributing to conversation with further questions. During the tour students experimented with forms, structures, materials, concepts, media and art-making approaches that relate to the artwork and themes they observed in The Museum.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
Core Arts Standards
#2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work and #5 Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation: Art projects completed by students connect to the exhibition theme, for example, students looked at weavings where artists left imperfections. Students created a paper weaving of their own requiring them to plan out their idea before executing. Students included misaligned stitches, celebrating and honoring the wabi sabi principles of imperfectness and incompleteness.
#7 Perceive and analyze artistic work and #8 Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work: Students are asked open-ended questions that focus their attention on the artwork and themes, reinforcing close looking and critical thinking. When asked what students see or wonder when looking at artwork displayed, students draw on their personal experiences and knowledge as they recognize familiar objects or images in the artwork.
Often, students who have been to The Museum before will comment that the space looks different compared to when they were here last. This observation prompts conversations about the purpose of museums, providing visitors with an appreciation of varied forms of expression and exposure to different ideas.
The exhibition, Wabi Sabi, featured artwork by artists who approach their work with respect for the concepts embedded in wabi sabi: ideas rooted in the imperfect, unfinished and impermanence of all things. During Student Tours, we explored the beauty of mistakes and change. The feedback we received from teachers was gratifying, we learned that it reinforced that imperfection “can not only be tolerated but celebrate[d]!” Through exposure to mediums of art unfamiliar to their students, teachers were able to emphasize a growth mindset with their students. It is the subtle but enthusiastic “oohs” and “ahhs” we hear from students when they see ceramic sculptures bigger than they are, or the “that is super-duper cool” that affirm the importance of arts education and integration.
Over 88% of teachers chose to participate in a tour because they find it a valuable out-of-classroom experience. Through post program surveys from teachers, we know that we are achieving our goals; 100% of tours encourage close-looking and conversation, and critical and creative thinking, and 96% of teachers found that the material was presented in a way that is accessible to all students.
Students and teachers are excited to visit the Sun Valley Museum of Art, and the children always light up when they learn that they will get an opportunity to create their own artwork. It is important to include a hands-on opportunity for students to connect the artwork from the exhibition to a personal experience they can take home with them. We find it works best to look at and discuss the artwork first, and then complete the art-making portion of the visit. Tours are often one hour, though we find 70 minutes to be ideal to allow for ample art-making time.
Our tour leaders facilitate conversations with student visitors using open-ended questions that focus students’ attention on artwork themes. This close-looking and encouragement of critical thinking is grounded in Visual Thinking Strategies, and it encourages students to freely express themselves verbally and creatively when making their own artwork, sharing individual thoughts, listening to and building on their peers’ contributions.
Given that students return to The Museum throughout the school year, we are considering varying the structure of tours to include a few options of focus. For example, in addition to exhibition themes, we believe there is value in considering artist-centered themes across exhibitions viewed such as artist as observer or artist as storyteller to make connections between classroom learning and works of art as well as further engage students in understanding the role of a museum.