Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in Contemporary Art Museum Education

By Mayer, Melinda M. | Art Education, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in Contemporary Art Museum Education


Mayer, Melinda M., Art Education


Today's art museum educators face a challenge that is unprecedented in the field. Where not too long ago little was known regarding how people learn in the museum, now multiple theories have emerged (FaIk & Dierking 1992,2000; Hein 1998; Roberts, 1997; Yenawine, 1988). New theories breed new practices. The dilemma for art museum educators is to select the theory and craft the practice that will promote meaningful learning experiences for visitors, who can be anyone from children to Senior Citizens.

This predicament of aligning theory and practice points to the maturation of the field of art museum education, which was criticized in the 1980s for its lack of grounding in educational theory (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986). Now, the contemporary art museum educator has access to various theories of learning as well as emerging teaching strategies. Although K-12 art educators experienced shifts in notions of learning during the last decades of the 20th century, the focus in this article is art museum education.

The challenge for K-12 art educators and art museum educators is different due to the more structured character of school learning and the narrower range of ages. On what basis, therefore, should art museum educators decide the theoretical foundation of their teaching? Once having made that choice, what are the difficulties involved in translating that theory into good practice? Before taking up these questions, some context regarding teaching in the art museum is needed.

Prior to developing knowledge regarding how people learn in museums, art museum educators focused their attention more on what and how they should teach than on the learning processes of museum visitors. The content of art museum teaching seemed obvious-the collection. Providing educational programs that elucidated and illuminated the works of art in the collections was the basis of teaching (Excellence and Equity, 1992). Art museum educators were expected to pass along the art historical information provided to them by the museum's researchers, the curators. The discipline of art history, therefore, played a determining role in the content of educational experiences in the art museum. To figure out how to teach, art museum educators looked to sources beyond art history.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, art museum educators increasingly explored such fields as communication theory and educational psychology in order to create effective, interactive teaching techniques. Whether developing questioning strategies designed to stimulate higher order thinking skills or differentiating gallery teaching for the multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983) of art, museum visitors, these educators strove to teach not only about their collections, but also in ways that made the experience of the museum personally meaningful to visitors. Museum education programs provided background information on the artist and work, introduced cultural contexts, defined useful vocabulary, cultivated the looking skills of visitors, facilitated interpretation, and enabled visitors to make connections between their lives and the artworks (Yenawine, 1988). While art museum educators focused their practice on what to teach and how to teach, researchers attempted to identify how people learn in museums.1 As was the case in art education at large, throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s the results of research appeared in the burgeoning literature of museum education. Here, then, is an overview of current theories and strategies of museum learning.

Constructivism

A theory of learning that is gaining influence among museum educators is constructivism. Writers and researchers in many areas of education draw upon the work of such educational psychologists as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky in formulating constructivism. The most thorough presentation of a constructivist theory for museums is George Hein's Learning in the Museum (1998). Hein writes that visitors construct knowledge by making connections between their lives and the objects they encounter in museums. …

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

Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in Contemporary 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.