Bringing Children to Art-Bringing Art to Children

By Unrath, Kathy; Luehrman, Mick | Art Education, January 2009 | Go to article overview
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Bringing Children to Art-Bringing Art to Children


Unrath, Kathy, Luehrman, Mick, Art Education


A museum isn't just a place where we keep art, it is a place where the public, the students and we can view, respond and learn about art and ourselves.

(S. Hock, personal communication, May 2, 2002)

A commitment to providing students with multiple learning venues is the foundation of the Art Education program at the University of Missouri. Integral to the curriculum is the belief that all students, university and K-12 alike, should have the opportunity to view original works of art (Henry, 1992, 2004; Wolf-Ragatz, 1996). Having access to museums at an early age sets the tone for further exploration of one's culture by developing skills to interpret visual language. As Walsh-Piper (1994) observed, "The experience of a museum visit, from the aesthetics of the architectural setting to the personal encounter with a great work of art, is one with the potential for wonder and awe, creating memorable images for the child" (p.1). Paris and Hapgood (2002) described museums as informal learning environments where objects and experiences stimulate a curiosity that can be extended into the classroom and beyond. With this in mind, the University of Missouri Art Education Program and Museum of Art and Archeology collaboratively created the Museum Partnership Program to provide preservice art teachers with museum experiences and training for connecting museums and their resources in their future classrooms.

Rather than relying on secondary sources, such as printed and web-based art reproductions, this program allows preservice art teachers to experience the energizing effect of teaching from primary sources, such as real artworks in an authentic setting, and the museum itself. In this article, two art education professors describe their vision for art education/museum collaboration and explain how this program has affected their future art teachers as well as the young students at a local elementary school.

The Art Museum as a Context for Teaching and Learning

We cannot overstate the importance of being in the presence of art in a museum setting: "If viewing works of art can lead to an understanding of the relationship between humans and material objects and, ultimately an appreciation for the human creative spirit, then surely it is imperative to develop ways to continually expose our students to such experiences" (Stone, 2001, p. 8). And while "museum collections offer the chance to contemplate cultural achievements, they [also] represent catalysts for educational instruction" (Stone, 2001, p.8). For these reasons, Piro (2001) explained, "Training teachers in a museum has several unique advantages. It allows art to be viewed and taught firsthand, and it helps to model future 'looking' experiences for teachers when they return to the museum with their students" (p.15). Geahigan (1999) has further suggested that it is important that future art teachers critically assess their own intellectual and emotional responses to works of art and then model informed and articulated discussions about them. This cross-campus collaboration between the Museum of Art and Archaeology and Art Education provides a system for students to learn how to think about and respond to art.

Terry Barrett (2003) noted, "Works of art are mere things until we begin to carefully perceive and interpret them" (p.xv). Engaging learners in what Barrett refers to as "meaningful interpretive thought" as well as "meaningful interpretive talk" is an essential step toward developing viewers' literacy (p.l). Fundamental to this experience is a holistic understanding of art that permits individuals to go beyond their immediate visual and emotional perception, and encourages them to consider a work of art from multiple perspectives, including its: (1) historical and cultural significance; (2) formal qualities including composition, form, shape, and color; and (3) meaning. The more future teachers are able to articulate their knowledge and perceptions about art, the more they will engage their students in rich artful dialogues.

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