The Role of Family Snapshots in Teaching Art History within a Dialogic Pedagogy

By Baxter, Kristin | Art Education, January 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Role of Family Snapshots in Teaching Art History within a Dialogic Pedagogy

Baxter, Kristin, Art Education

How can educators use dialogic teaching strategies to build connections between artworks and life experiences of students in a survey art history course? Can stories represented in one's family snapshots facilitate dialogue about formal content and conceptual issues present in works of art in museums? My interest in understanding if discussions of snapshots could facilitate students' insights into works of art was prompted, in part, by the work of historian Julia Hirsch (1981). She investigates meanings of family photographs by comparing twentieth-century snapshots of mothers and children, weddings, and homes to works from art history, such as a fourth century B.C. Roman marble stele depicting a wedding ceremony, Robert Campin's Annunciotion triptych Merode Altarpiece) (1427-32), and a documentary photographic portrait from 1 866 by Solomon Butcher depicting Nebraska homesteaders. Hirsch argues, "we still treasure paintings and create photographs which relate, no matter how tenuously, to ancient metaphors of family unity and cohesion: we still seem to acknowledge the values we haveshed"(1981,p.28,32).

Studying images of families in works of art and in snapshots is compelling, and I further wondered if looking at both types of images side by side might help students understand both kinds of images more fully. Snapshots often prompt detailed and vivid stories among family members and friends. Therefore, I wondered if dialogue about snapshots could be used, in an introductory art history course, as a springboard to discussing related works of art with students who are sometimes reluctant to fully participate in group discussions.

Other researchers argue that family photographs and the stories associated with them are primary sources of information about cultural systems, social practices, and family/community histories (Akeret, 1991; Barrett, 1996; Cronin, 1996, 1998; Geffroy, 1990; Lowenthal, 1985; Walker 8c Moulton, 1989). In addition, researchers maintain that family photographs and associated narratives reveal interconnections between public historical events and personal memory, have communal and personal purposes (Blomgren, 1999; Kuhn, 1995; Zelevansky, 1998; Zuromskis, 2006), and show potential for improving family functioning if used in therapeutic settings (Kobbe, 1993). At the same time, by imagining what cultural practices are not represented in a collection of family photographs, one can speculate what is considered culturally taboo or mundane (Beloff, 1985; Duncum, 1996; Holland, 1991).

The ubiquity of snapshots in daily life, the cultural value they hold, and my own studio art practice that incorporates the use of these images (Baxter, Lopez, Serig, & Sullivan, 2008) prompted my dissertation research on the educational potential of family snapshots, particularly for art education (Baxter, 2009, 2005a, 2005b). This research explored how individuals organized, coded, and made meaning of experience through material/ visual culture, especially family snapshots. Though I propose a theoretical rationale for using family snapshots within a visual culture approach to art education, putting theories to practical use in the classroom lay outside the scope of this earlier research. Therefore, this current research addresses that limitation.

This article presents evidence that dialogue is essential in the creation of meaning, as students make critical observations between works of fine art and their personal family snapshots. In doing so, students internalize and construct personal meanings about works of fine art, using family snapshots as vehicles. Similarly, they internalize and construct personal meanings of their family snapshots using works of fine art as the vehicles.

Exploring the Great Museums of New York

"Exploring the Great Museums of New York" is an introductory level, museumbased art history course that I taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. The course meets six times in total, including three classroom sessions and three all-day meetings at museums.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Role of Family Snapshots in Teaching Art History within a Dialogic Pedagogy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?