Art Takes Me There

By Reese, Elizabeth B. | Art Education, January 2003 | Go to article overview
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Art Takes Me There

Reese, Elizabeth B., Art Education

Engaging the Narratives of Community Members Through Interpretative Exhibition Processes and Programming

When U.S. art museums opened their doors in 1872, the prevailing modes of thinking were grounded in perspectives based on the Enlightenment that supported grand-narratives and modernist "rules" for the legitimization of knowledge. In brief, these grand-narratives and rules for legitimization supported "truths" from one perspective-typically the educated and elite-and rendered all others invisible and silent (Lyotard, 1993). Accordingly, pedagogical strategies were employed that presented single narrative explanations of exhibitions based on culturally constructed notions of legitimate knowledge (Hooper-Greenhill, 1992; Roberts, 1997; Wallach, 1998). Single narratives are now considered problematic because they (1) produce an authoritative, single truth, (2) include minimal, if any, additional perspectives and limited contextual information, and (3) lack encouragement of conversations that promote multiple perspectives or critical, reflexive inquiry (Hooper-- Greenhill, 1992; McLean, 1999; Reese, 2001; Roberts, 1997). This traditional approach subsequently may deter visitors from attending or returning to a museum thereby challenging its own educational mission.

Current theorists propose that new practices are emerging that nurture multiple "knowledges" rather than knowledge, facilitate multiple interpretations rather than a single interpretation, and encourage interaction among numerous narratives rather than the presentation of a single narrative (see Figure 1) (Hooper-Greenhill, 1992, 2000; Garoian, 2001; McLean, 1999; Roberts, 1997; Wallach, 1998). Similarly, I propose that static experiences within museum exhibitions can be transformed into dynamic ones by applying theories and practices associated with intertextuality, narratives, and narrative forms of education.

In order to explain these emerging pedagogies, each of the theories that make up the foundation for "intertextual exhibition narratives" will be characterized and their value to museum education described. Then definitions and discussions will be presented of the five performative strategies that were used as pedagogical tools to implement a specific intertextual exhibition narrative, Art Takes Me There, at the South Texas Institute for the Arts (STIA) in Corpus Christi, Texas. Next the multifaceted processes and programs will be shared that resulted in the intertextual exhibition narrative. Finally, concluding comments will be offered about utilizing intertextual narrative pedagogical theories and practices.

Constructing Engaging Exhibitions through Intertextuality, Narrative Theory, and Narrative Forms of Education

Intertextuality. Intertextuality is described as the manner in which a text-any interpretable object or narrative, such as a performance, song, television program, work of art, or exhibition-always refers to other texts (Barthes, 1977; Bal, 1997). Intertextuality exists whether or not a reader is able to acknowledge the possible relationships from one text to others (Scholes, 1982). This concept is critical because it suggests that there are numerous relationships among and within a given text, and that there may always be additional connections to be revealed when another reader happens along.

Here, I envision that there is an implicit network of human ideas and texts similar to how contemporary cultures from all around the world rely on the World Wide Web not only for information, but also for communications with one another. In fact, I consider the Internet to be a metaphor for intertextual exhibition narratives and that many individuals who make use of this electronic technology are always working to create new links and connections, always striving to create and reveal new relationships among disciplines and ideas. Correlating intertextual exhibition narratives to a website is significant because it challenges traditional authoritative presentations that include minimal contextual information and limited perspectives.

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