Collaborating with Extreme Beauty: A Partnership Project between the Heritage School and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hochtritt, Lisa, Lane, Kimberly, Price, Shannon Bell, Art Education
This article chronicles the development and implementation of a lesson sequence in a high school art course that utilized Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed, a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume
Institute from December 6, 2001-March 17, 2002. This project took place over a 3-week period in the spring semester 2002 at The Heritage School, a public high school in New York City. As collaborators in this project, we each had our own objectives associated with our professional roles as school cultural visits coordinator (Lisa Hochtritt), art teacher (Kimberly Lane), and museum exhibition associate (Shannon Bell Price). We began planning for the project 3 months prior to its start and together developed a unit that exceeded our individual goals and met the four New York State Art Standards:1
* Creating, performing, and participating in the arts
* Knowing and using art materials and resources
* Responding to and analyzing works of art
* Understanding the cultural dimensions and contributions of the arts.
Our main goals and objectives for this project were as follows.
For the Cultural Visits Coordinator:
* To utilize local museums as a curricular resource;
* To facilitate dialogue and collaboration between museum personnel and Heritage teachers.
* To provide students with a learning opportunity that would connect their experience in the classroom with the world outside of school.
For the Art Teacher:
* That students would reflect on their own notions of beauty and the role that fashion and clothing choices play in social interactions;
* That students would learn how fashion has been and continues to be used to transform the body to conform to particular ideas of beauty;
* To provide a concrete, sensory experience that would help students feel successful in depicting the human form.
For the Museum Exhibition Associate:
* To expand our educational policies to include high school students;
* To encourage teenagers to consider the implications of fashion as art.
In this article, we provide our three perspectives as a means to represent the collaborative nature of this project.
The School and its Philosophy
The Heritage School started in 1997 as a collaboration between the New York City Department of Education and Teachers College, Columbia University. It is a public high school located in East Harlem, New York City, and serves approximately 300 students in grades 9-12. The Heritage School is a Title 1 school with an open enrollment admissions policy. Students come to our school with a wide range of academic abilities.
Central to the mission of the Heritage School is the belief that our school should meet the academic and affective needs of our students through an interdisciplinary curriculum. Because we believe that the cultural heritage of New York City belongs to everyone, we integrate cultural learning across the curriculum through all-school visits to museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions as well as varied opportunities for engagement in the arts. Teachers are encouraged to plan additional field trips throughout the year and to make curricular connections utilizing various institutions. The administration and staff fully support all artsrelated activities in the school.
Our Approach to Learning
The arts offer the capacity for involvement, shared visions, and possibilities for imagination. At Heritage, we believe that the experience the students bring to the learning process is a valid lens through which to interpret art objects. Museum Education Specialist, George Hein (1998), describes a shared approach to cultural institution and museum visits through constructivist pedagogy. Learning occurs when the participant's mind is actively engaged with the production of the process and product and acquiring knowledge as a synthesis of these activities. The constructivist approach to learning is one practiced collectively in our classrooms. The most successful collaborations are ones where both students and teacher explore the learning process together. Hein (1998) explains:
The pedagogic challenge [for constructivists] is to find experiences that stimulate and challenge. Constructivists, with their concern with the schémas and ideas that are already in learner's minds, will be more likely to ask whether the environment [in the museum] is one with which the learner can make any connections. Is there a familiar reference, object, idea, or activity that will allow the learner to engage with the issue? (p. 38)
To create a meaningful museum visit and related classroom experience, we feel it is essential to promote students' responses to the work and to validate their opinions as real and worthwhile. We recognize that our students bring their life experiences with them into the museum, and we encourage them to draw upon their experiences in their encounters with works of art. According to Museum Educator Rika Burnham (1994):
The greatest gift we can give our students in the museum is the acceptance of their responsesas a group and as individualsand an affirmation that whatever experience and reference each brings, it is valuable to our collective understanding of a work of art. (p. 522)
We wholeheartedly subscribe to this philosophy and see it as a salient feature of this project from each of our three perspectives.
From the Perspective of the School's Cultural Visits Coordinator: Lisa Hochtritt
My position as the Cultural Visits Coordinator at The Heritage School is funded through grants obtained by Teachers College. I must establish dialogue with cultural institutions in our community, work with the teachers in the planning and execution of cultural visits throughout the school year, and deal with the logistical aspects of taking students out of the building. Currently, ongoing collaborations with many institutions in New York City are in place, and the Extreme Beauty project is our first indepth partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.
As the project coordinator, I make connections between cultural institutions and teachers at our school. When I learned about the Extreme Beauty exhibition, I knew it presented an exceptional opportunity for collaboration. Working with our art teacher Kim Lane, and The Costume Institute's Shannon Bell Price, we developed a project that would augment the art curriculum and bring students into the exhibition in a formalized way to explore conceptions of beauty across time. Through phone conversations, e-mail exchanges, a joint visit to the exhibition, and two additional meetings in person, we devised a sequence of museum pre-visit activities, museum and classroom objectives and lessons, and post-visit artmaking activities.
As the liaison between the school and the museum, I was involved in all aspects of the project-organizing meetings with personnel, presentations to the administration, scheduling, transportation, permission forms, developing lesson objectives, obtaining art materials, creating the questionnaires and workbooks, participating in the final critique, documenting the project, reflecting on the project, and debriefing with the school and museum personnel. The art teacher and the museum education associate had their own goals and strengths, making the project a rich, multi-dimensional experience for everyone.
From the Perspective of the Art Teacher: Kimberly Lane
When Lisa Hochtritt approached me with the prospect of collaborating with The Metropolitan Museum of Art to create a lesson sequence related to its Extreme Beauty exhibition, I was immediately enthusiastic. I thought that exploring notions of beauty and the cultural implications of fashion would resonate with and excite the students in my Introduction to Studio Art classes, composed primarily of ninth graders. Like most teenagers, my students demonstrate the self-consciousness and attention to personal appearance and style that reflect the adolescent's changing sense of identity (Burton, 1981). I was confident that many pieces in the exhibition would kindle their curiosity and elicit strong reactions and discussion.
The Extreme Beauty collaboration tied in well with my curricular plans because I wanted to begin the semester with collage experiences that would help my students make representations of the body. Most of my students have had little experience with art materials prior to entering Heritage. Many students express anxiety in representing the human figure. Students often resort to a stick figure schema but are dissatisfied with it as a means to express the complex situations, relationships, emotions, and ideas that surface in their artwork. The Extreme Beauty collaboration elicited new ideas as to how to I might help my students in their efforts to represent the human body.
Judith Burton (1981) ascribes adolescents' frustration with art materials to their "struggle to connect what they know about three-dimensional qualities of objects in the real world, with what they know about lines on a flat surface" (p. 62).2 The museum post-visit project that we developed involved the construction of large cardboard collage figures (1 to 2 feet tall) with jointed parts. We thought that creating a three-dimensional figure with some consideration of proportion and with movable joints would go a long way toward achieving human figures that seemed "real" to the students. My hope was that the process of constructing the figure and the extensive handling of that figure throughout the project would provide a concrete, sensory experience that the students could draw upon later when representing the body through paintings and drawings.
Additional objectives for me were that my students reflect on their own notions of beauty and on the role that fashion and clothing choices play in social interactions; that they learn how fashion has been and continues to be used to transform the body to conform to particular ideas of beauty; and that while conceptions of beauty have changed across cultures and across time, certain body parts and zones have consistently been areas of fascination. We addressed these issues in pre-visit questionnaires and reflection questions, in our discussions in the classroom and at the museum, and in our post-visit project in which students designed clothing for their jointed figures and integrated constructed ideas of beauty with their own.
Prior to the start of this sequence, students did an initial exploratory project to familiarize themselves with collage materials and techniques. Students then completed a questionnaire designed to prompt reflection on the roles that clothing choices and fashion play in their lives. The thoughtful, extensive responses to these questionnaires confirmed for us that this topic resonated with the students and was something about which they had strong feelings.
Shannon Bell Price came to Heritage the day before our trip to the museum and facilitated a discussion that arose from student responses to the questionnaires. She also presented slides of objects in the exhibition. We timed her visit so that issues and questions that came up in our discussion would be fresh in the students' minds when they visited the exhibition.
When we arrived at the museum, students received a handout we developed. The handout included inquiry-based questions designed to encourage reflective engagement with the exhibition. The questions were intended to: 1) promote exploration of the exhibition; 2) guide and encourage students to make careful observations; and 3) connect the pieces in the Museum to the students' own experiences. Some questions called for written answers, while others sought visual responses such as observational sketches. Student responses to the exhibition were as varied as the pieces showcased in it. Student expressions ranged from disbelief, disgust, indignation, and disregard to awe, surprise, incredulousness, bemusement, humor, and longing. Overall, the students responded positively to the experience and remained engaged for the duration of the one-and-a-half hour visit.
The next day, we discussed the exhibition as a class. Certain pieces made particularly strong impressions and students described them in great detail. They also recalled the five body zones by which the exhibition was organized, and briefly discussed some of the techniques designers used to transform those zones in different ways. Following this dialogue, students selected two notions of beauty to incorporate in their clothing designs. One they drew from a hat, the other they chose themselves. The conceptions of beauty ranged from ones similar to our own culture-long legs, broad shoulders-to humorous, such as enormous hands and long feet. In keeping with the exhibition, students were encouraged to address these concepts to the extreme in their fashion designs. Materials provided included a wide variety of fabrics and notions, and students had the option to paint the skin and faces of their figures.
I was pleased with the level of engagement and enthusiasm sustained throughout the 3 weeks. Many students employed sophisticated problem-solving strategies to achieve the effects they wanted, and every student successfully completed a figure with a clothing design. Shannon and Lisa returned for the final discussion of the finished student work.
From the Perspective of the Museum Exhibition Associate: Shannon Bell Price
The collaboration with Heritage stemmed from a presentation developed a year and a half ago for New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The high school called The Costume Institute for assistance in organizing a "Day of Tolerance" to educate the students about other cultures and how to be tolerant of differences. Although Extreme Beauty was primarily concerned with how fashion has changed the body and how ideals of beauty have fluctuated across cultures and time, the underlying ideas about identity and culture resonated with New Utrecht's, "Day of Tolerance," goals. The New Utrecht partnership fit well with curator Harold Koda's desire to invigorate The Costume Institute's educational outreach at the high school level.
When I relayed my experience at New Utrecht to Lisa Hochtritt, she expressed interest in developing a project with The Costume Institute that would employ the Extreme Beauty exhibition as curricular kindling. We began to collaborate with Kim Lane, who was interested in exploring issues of the body in a tactile way. The three of us devised apre-visit questionnaire, which Kim assigned to her classes as homework. Prior to the students' trip to the exhibition, I visited the classes and facilitated a guided forum in which students discussed their responses to the questionnaire. A lively dialogue ensued with many points of view expressed and debated. Following the discussion, I presented a series of slides of objects the students would see in the exhibition as an introduction and to pique their curiosity. When the students came to the museum, I was amazed by their engagement and many insightful questions.
I attended the final presentation and discussion of student artwork created after their museum visit. I was struck by the variance of bodies produced and the creativity and problem solving that students used in their fashion designs. Clearly, they had spent much time considering issues of beauty and societal emphasis on different body parts, and effectively translated their ideas into a variety of solutions that also expressed personal aesthetics. Student responses to questions such as "Why do you think fashion is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?" illustrated the depth of thinking that resulted from this project. During the final critique of the project one ninth-grade boy explained, "Fashion should be in the museum because clothes have been with us since the dawn of time. So, why wouldn't it be? It's like an artifact." Another added, "Fashion uses colors and design just like art." These and other comments made clear that the students gained a greater understanding as to why fashion should be part of a museum collection such as that of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The process of bringing the Heritage students into the Extreme Beauty exhibition moved to the forefront an issue that had not been looked at for many years-that high-school groups were not permitted to tour in The Costume Institute galleries in any sort of organized way. Our collaboration prompted the museum's Education Department to rethink this policy. The Costume Institute has since met with the Education Department to create an educational outreach plan specifically for high school students. The new emphasis on education, supported by our curator, combined with the success of the Extreme Beauty collaboration with the Heritage School, has led to a commitment to deeper involvement with the community and will hopefully involve the entire Costume Institute staff in an organized way.
Collectively, we believe our pedagogic goals were met through this collaborative, partnership approach. Essential components of the success of this collaboration were the following:
* The project was developed to serve the curriculum of the classes in which it was implemented;
* We entered this collaboration with open minds; the final form of the project came into being through our discussions; and
* Our commitment included adequate meeting and planning time to give the project depth and integrity.
By working with the museum, Kim Lane brought images into her classroom that were not available to the public. She also had access to Shannon Bell Price's expertise. Kim felt that the knowledge and insight gained from Shannon regarding the cultural and societal roles of fashion deeply enriched her own understanding, and therefore the learning of the students.
Finding time for additional planning is often difficult, given the busy schedules of teachers. To address this problem, we limited the number of times we met in person and maximized our use of e-mail and telephone to communicate. Wo all felt that our collegial support was invaluable. The exchange of ideas in our planning sessions resulted in a final sequence of greater nuance and depth than any one of us could have done alone.
Perhaps most importantly, bringing the students to the museum to interact with the objects was a compelling and provocative way of teaching concepts that were already in Kim's regular curriculum. The trip to the exhibition provided a sensory, visceral experience in which students actively engaged in inquiry-based learning and discovery.
As educators who believe in the great potential of the museum experience for deep learning, we are inspired by the words of George Hein who challenges us to "never underestimate the value of wonder, exploration, expanding the mind, providing new, cognitively dissonant (intellectually shocking), and aesthetic experiences. Museums can do this well and these are an integral part of learning" (1998, p. 153). By providing opportunities for our students to learn in the museum, we connect the ideas and learning that occur in the classroom with the wider world beyond. With school art programs facing ever-increasing budget cuts, local resources and partnerships have tremendous potential to enrich classroom curricula. Most museums offer free or reduced admission for school groupsa gesture that makes approaches like ours a viable option. Many museums also have a range of resources available to teachers, from curriculum guides and visual aids to museum educators who will tailor museum visits to individual curriculum specifications. As we cultivate our students' familiarity and comfort with an inquiry-based approach to objects in the museum, we can also encourage them to make the museum experience an engaging, meaningful, and ongoing part of their everyday lives.
Because we believe that the cultural heritage of New York City belongs to everyone, we integrate cultural learning across the curriculum through all-school visits to museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions as well as varied opportunities for engagement in the arts.
Student expressions ranged from disbelief, disgust, indignation, and disregard to awe, surprise, incredulousness, bemusement, humor, and longing.
1 Retrieved October 23, 2003, from New York State Education Department website: http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/28.htm
2 Burton's position is consistent with Lowenfeld and Brittain's (1970) assertion that while young people strive to create images that feel real to them, this sense of realism should not be confused with naturalism. In their words, "Naturalism refers directly to nature and realism refers to what is real. Nature can be looked upon by many people. Their backgrounds, reactions, or emotions do not affect what is there. Nature may be snow on the ground, a hot summer day, or any part of the environment-it is this way whether we look at it or not. What is real, however, is firmly rooted within each individual." (p. 308-309)
Burnham, R. (1994). If you don't stop, you don't see anything. Teachers College Record, 95 (4), 520-525. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Burton, J. (1981, January). Developing minds: Representing experiences: Ideas in search of forms. School Arts, 80 (5), 58-64.
Hein, G. E. (1998). Learning in the museum. London and New York: Routledge.
Lowenfeld, V., & Brittain, W. L. (1970). Creative and mental growth (5th ed). New York: Macmillan.
Learning Standards for New York State. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2003, from New York State Education Department website: http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/28.htm
Lisa Hochtritt is an Assistant Professor of Art Education at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This article was written while she was a, doctoral candidate and instructor at Teachers College Columbia University. E-mail: LJH17@columbia. edu
Kimberly Lane is an art teacher at The Heritage School in New York City and an instructor in the Art Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. E-mail: KAL59@ Columbia, edu
Shannon Bell Price is a Research Associate at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. E-mail: Shannon.bell@metmuseum. org…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Collaborating with Extreme Beauty: A Partnership Project between the Heritage School and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Contributors: Hochtritt, Lisa - Author, Lane, Kimberly - Author, Price, Shannon Bell - Author. Magazine title: Art Education. Volume: 57. Issue: 5 Publication date: September 2004. Page number: 34+. © National Art Education Association Mar 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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