Productive Information: Contextual Knowledge in Art Museum Education

By Hubard, Olga M. | Art Education, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Productive Information: Contextual Knowledge in Art Museum Education


Hubard, Olga M., Art Education


What is the place of contextual information in students' responses to artworks?

Does it limit the possibility for a perceptual, personal relationship with a work?

Or can it enrich the encounter?

Aiming for experiences that are both culturally responsible and personally meaningful, in this article I offer guidelines to help museum educators and art teachers negotiate contextual information within group investigations of works of art. To make my suggestions more tangible, I have illustrated many of them with instances from my teaching practice.

Contextual Information: Hindrance or Blessing?

Group dialogue holds a prominent place in today's art museum education. Through guided discussions, educators can engage students in meaningful investigations of artworks. Effective discussions have a back-and-forth character: Viewers pay close attention to the works in front of them, drawing from their lived experiences to make sense of what they see.

There is much that educators can do to encourage group inquiry. For example, they can pose thoughtful, open-ended questions that encourage people to look more closely at works of art. They can acknowledge all responses, and weave them together into a larger web of meanings. They can invite students to ground their comments in what they see, and ask them to probe deeper into their thoughts and feelings.1

Museum educator Rika Burnham (1994) wrote that the purpose of group dialogue is not the "time-efficient transfer of information" (1994, p. 523) about an object. The aim, rather, is to empower audiences to collectively discover layers of meaning in works of art (Barrett, 2000; Burnham & Kai-Kee, 2005; Greene, 2001; Rice, 1995; Rice & Yenawine, 2002). Group discussions are, therefore, closely aligned with art criticism, as interpretation is the central activity (Barrett, 1994).1

What, then, becomes of all the information that traditional lectures used to deliver? Should educators attend to artists' biographies, art historical categories, and critics' interpretations? Or should they focus exclusively on the personal relationships that can be forged between a viewer and an object?

Burnham (1994) explained that programs based on the delivery of information can "severely limit the possibility for a perceptual and personal relationship with a work of art. . .. Students realize their participation is irrelevant, that other people have already denned what is important and significant, . . . [and they] tune out" (p. 521).3 Likewise, Philosopher John Armstrong (2000) said that a preoccupation with information "can be a way of avoiding a more personal relationship with the object. External considerations can be so absorbing that they draw our attention away from the very thing that they are supposed to serve: We end up knowing about [emphasis added] the picture ... but not knowing it [emphasis added]" (p. 14).

Nevertheless, Armstrong (2000) and Burnham and Kai-Kee (2005) explained that contextual knowledge does not necessarily lead to impoverished engagement. Information can foster more detailed perception and open up viewers' appreciation. It can change, guide, and develop the way people see, deepening and enriching their experience. In short, contextual knowledge is not in itself a hindrance or a blessing. It is what a spectator does with the information that matters. What art history student has not felt the satisfaction of walking around a museum, fitting objects into all the right categories? This one is Cubist, this one from Crete, that one by Carracci. "Getting it right" can bring about a feeling of satisfaction and even impress others. Yet, merely attaching to a painting the label "Cubist," keeps a viewer within the realm of impersonal generalizations. It is only when one explores with fresh eyes how Cubist precepts play out in a particular picture that information about Cubism helps deepen understanding.4

The Role of Teachers

How can teachers help students use information productively within dialogues about art? …

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

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.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Productive Information: Contextual Knowledge in Art Museum Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.