Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Art Appreciation as a Learned Competence: A Museum-Based Qualitative Study of Adult Art Specialist and Art Non-Specialist Visitors

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Art Appreciation as a Learned Competence: A Museum-Based Qualitative Study of Adult Art Specialist and Art Non-Specialist Visitors

Article excerpt


In Slovenia, research into art appreciation has started to develop. This paper takes as its starting point the fact that "museums are where the great majority of people in the West today encounter art" (McClellan, 2006, p. xiii) and thus presents a study that is conceptually and methodologically museumbased. The term "museums" is used here to refer to art museums (galleries) with most of their collections and exhibitions devoted to visual art objects. The research reported upon is a qualitative study of a group of art specialists and a group of art non-specialist adults responding to artworks in Moderna galerija in Ljubljana. An analytical framework, used for the analysis of interviews, relates to the association between art education and people's ability to appreciate and understand works of art.

This research continues with empirical evidence that showed that school support for learning about art is weak in Slovenia; the art curriculum is centred principally on art-making activities, with an obvious neglect of appreciation (Bracun Sova & Kemperl, 2012). This is problematic if we realize that people's interest in art is developed in (and beyond) school, as UK- and US-based studies and reports indicate (e.g. Hooper-Greenhill et al., 2001; Hooper-Greenhill & Moussouri, 2001; Zakaras & Lowell, 2008).

Current research into art appreciation in Slovenia does not go further than measuring the predominantly pre-determined levels of perception and reception of female and male pupils in school, whereby reproductions of artworks by modernist and contemporary artists, such as Paul Cézanne and Jorge Rodrigues Gerada, are used for observation (Duh, Zupancic, & Cagran, 2014; Duh & Korosec, 2014; Duh, 2014). There are also some methodological issues, for example, the absence of coding, categorizing and conceptualization in qualitative data analysis. The empirical literature in this paper, however, includes critical specifics about learning processes in museums as authentic places of art. The research is grounded in a more complex understanding of art appreciation as a learned competence and examines education-related differences in people's ability to appreciate works of art.

Framework for Understanding Art Appreciation as a Learned Competence

It was Bourdieu who first coined the concept "competence" when discussing the ability to enjoy and understand art. In his study of visitors to museums and art galleries, conducted in the 1960s, he determined that the level of educational attainment and occupational status had a direct bearing on museum attendance and the quality of museum experience. He argued that the ability to enjoy and understand art is not self-evident, but "cultivated", that is learned: "[...] aesthetic pleasure presupposes learning and, in any particular case, learning by habit and exercise" (Bourdieu & Darbel, 1969/1991, p. 109).

The approach to art appreciation adopted for this paper is that presented by Olsen (1998, p. 66), who sees it as "not untrained perception, but the outcome of a long process of initiation and practice." Barrett (2007, p. 651) writes that art appreciation is an engaged activity that requires knowledge: "Appreciation is a complex act of cognition that is dependent on relevant knowledge of what is appreciated." Appreciation involves knowledge of various sorts, such as art-historical knowledge, historical knowledge, and other factors (see Hooper- Greenhill, 1999).

Some authors have researched the processes of seeing, experiencing and understanding art in a museum setting. Research first focused on art specialists (museum professionals with art background and experience: curators, educators and managers) and aimed to develop a model of ideal aesthetic experience (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi & Robinson, 1990). The comparative approach followed, whereby researchers compared art specialists and art non-specialists (e.g. Lachapelle, 1999). …

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