Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 07.28.14

Artists and Influence

Last week, Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote an article, The End of Genius, for the New York Times. In a nutshell, it discusses the idea that was propagated in the nineteenth century of the solitary artist genius. While we now know that the great artists worked alongside other artists and ran workshops with many artists, the idea of the artist genius still holds on with some. As the museum I work in has works of art by most of the major Spanish masters I want to explore the idea of artists and influence as a teaching concept in your own classroom.  

The Meadows Museum is fortunate to own three paintings by the 17th century Spanish master, Diego Velázquez. We also have six paintings by the 18th century painter Francisco de Goya. Goya was privileged as an artist to have found an appointment as a painter at the court of Madrid while he was in his 20s. Having access to the royal palaces meant he had access to the great collections that today make up the foundation of the Prado Museum.  Goya acknowledged three masters: Rembrandt, Velázquez, and nature. Goya’s study of Velázquez is clearly documented in a series of drawings he made after the great paintings by the master in the royal collections. He created the drawings with the intention of creating a series of etchings that would be reproducible and therefore make the work of Velázquez better known. Goya was influenced by a number of different artists from his time. Some scholars believe that works in his famous print series, Los Caprichos, were influenced by prints made by the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo who was also working for King Charles III in Madrid.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), Prince Balthasar Carlos as Hunter (after Velázquez), 1778-79. Red Crayon over preliminary drawing in pencil. Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kupferstichkabinett (38540). Photo by Christoph Irrgang.

Velázquez was also influenced by his master Francisco Pacheco, who he trained with in Seville. He worked and met many of the major artists of his time including Peter Paul Rubens, with whom he shared a Madrid studio in 1827-28. While traveling in Italy, Velázquez met with the Spanish master Jusepe de Ribera.  The artist whose influence might be the strongest on Velázquez is the Venetian painter Titian, whose work he was able to study in depth in the Spanish royal collections. There is a distinct softening in Velázquez’s painting style after he viewed the works of Titian and other Italian masters.

I mention all this to say that art is about influence, and invention is really born through what is learned and adapted from others.  While I am sure that we often encourage students to copy after other artists, we do not do enough to encourage the kind of sharing and building, and, in some cases, freely stealing in order to invent and create something new, as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque often did.  I say this also as an artist myself who often will take what close artist friends are doing in their work and try it out in my own. Of course there are times when something I make reminds me too much of someone else’s work. However, after a while, artists will assimilate what really works for them and it becomes their own again. I hope you will take the opportunity to discuss the idea of artists and their influences with your students and come up with unique ways to get them to look at art and find what really inspires them. 

-Scott Winterrowd, Curator of Education, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University

Wednesday 07.16.14

Strategies for Facilitating a Conversation about a Work of Art

We all know that how we interface with each museum is a little different. Most often students interact in a gallery experience with a volunteer or possibly a paid gallery teacher. The teacher in the museum experience will most likely provide information about a set of objects, sometimes through questioning strategies, or possibly activities. While for many years, educators in museums crafted questions to investigate a work of art, today many in the art museum education field approach teaching with works of art through a facilitated discussion. In this entry I will discuss some ways to begin thinking about opening up the conversation and making a level playing field for talking about a work of art in your classroom.

You will want to select the work of art that will be discussed. It should be a work that you are familiar with and know a good bit about. A work I often use for this purpose in my own museum is Juan Carreño de Miranda’s Portrait of King Charles II, ca. 1675.

  Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614-1685)
Portrait of King Charles II, c. 1675
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase Thanks to a Gift from Jo Ann Geurin Thetford in Honor of her Sons, Garrett and Wyatt Pettus. MM.2010.02
Meadows Museum

Begin by giving students time to examine the artwork in silence. It may seem like a long time, but give them about three minutes. After a minute or so they will most likely give you a questioning look, but direct your attention to the work of art and generally they will also.

Following looking time, if you think you might have difficulty getting students to talk about the work ask them to turn to someone close by and discuss something they noticed in the work, or something they have a question about. Give students about five to seven minutes to discuss with their partners, or wait until the discussion dies down and then invite the group to share what they were discussing about the work. This is a great ice breaker for warming up the group for discussion.

When students give observations about the work respond by paraphrasing what they have said back to the whole group - such as in the case of the Portrait of King Charles II, students often say, “I noticed a young girl dressed in black in an elaborate setting, and I want to know what she is holding in her hand.” A good response to this is “You noticed that there is a young girl who is wearing all black and standing in a richly decorated space, and you have a question about what she is holding in her hand.” Rather than offering an answer to the question this poses the question back out to the group. Also this type of response validates the student’s observations by not correcting about the gender of the individual in the painting. Generally, the group will begin to question whether the sitter is a boy or a girl, and will begin to notice other features about the person in the portrait.

Continue to allow for student responses, and make paraphrasing a habit in how you respond to their observations.  Paraphrasing is key to the process because it requires the facilitator to listen and process what an individual says. It validates the response and allows for clarification of what was said for the entire group.  

Avoid responding to students with phrases like, “That is a good observation!” or “I am so glad you noticed that.” Responses like these set up the idea that you are looking for a correct answer.  

When opening up the conversation about the work give a good bit of time to listening and paraphrasing before introducing content. When students begin to make observations that lead to an interpretation of the work of art, then you can begin to provide information that is relevant to the observation. For example, in relation to the Portrait of King Charles II, once they have established through their own observations that he is a person of importance, some often speculate that he may be a prince or a king. Once the idea is brought up by someone in the group it is fitting to introduce that he is in fact the last Spanish Hapsburg King and that the letter in his hand is a paper of authority and symbolizes his administrative duties.

Don’t feel like you have to tell them everything you know about the work. Only provide information that is relevant to the observations made by the group.

Allowing for an open discussion about a work of art as a group will result in rich and interesting ideas to explore with your students. Introducing class discussions of works of art will also help to spark ideas in your students’ own art making. 

-Scott Winterrowd, Curator of Education, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University

Tuesday 07. 8.14

Visiting the University or College Museum or Art Gallery

For much of my career I have worked at large museums that see a high volume of K-12 students through their doors each year. For the past seven years, I have worked at a small university art museum, the Meadows Museum, located on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). The campus is positioned about five miles from downtown Dallas where the arts district is located which includes a group of art museums and numerous performing arts venues. I often find myself making the case for visiting the Meadows and SMU. I thought I could use this forum to speak to the benefits of visiting your local university or college’s museum or art gallery.

There is a range of different types of museums and art galleries to be found on university and college campuses. Many have smaller gallery spaces that are used to showcase student work and/or contemporary art exhibitions. Some larger universities have accumulated extensive encyclopedic art collections. Others, like the Meadows Museum, house more intimate and focused collections, in our case, Spanish art spanning primarily from the fifteenth-century to the present. In addition, most of these museums or galleries have changing exhibitions on a range of art topics that can be useful in engaging your students in discussion and activities with real works of art.  

One of the best arguments towards visiting an academic art museum or gallery is that you can pair your visit to learn about and view real works of art with a campus tour to introduce students to a university/college setting. Ideally this works best for secondary students, as most universities or colleges are prepared to provide tours for high school students, but there are also opportunities for middle school and elementary students on a college campus as well. I am fortunate to run a grant funded program that brings high school students from a local district to the campus to visit the Meadows Museum and then to tour the Meadows School of the Arts here at SMU. At times, when there is a specific art discipline being engaged, we can customize the tour so that students can visit the print lab or ceramics shop, or visit student studio spaces. We have also had opportunities to engage with performances with other arts disciplines with groups visiting the campus. Other times we introduce students to a broader campus tour, where they can see where students live as well as see the different academic areas that the university specializes in. It is always good to keep in mind that not all students in the art class will pursue a degree in the arts.

Students observing a demonstration of the intaglio print process at Meadows School of the Arts, SMU

Do keep in mind that when touring discipline specific schools on a university campus sometimes smaller groups are preferred, while a more general campus tour can often accommodate larger groups.  This is also true when visiting special collections (most often housed in libraries) on the university campus.  You can often schedule an opportunity for smaller groups to see rare manuscripts, maps and drawings. At the Meadows Museum, appointments to see rare prints held in the collection can be made for smaller groups. This makes a portion of the collection that is not usually accessible available for viewing. 

Students examine prints by Francisco de Goya in the Meadows Museum  

Often a trip to a local university or college campus to explore art and introduce the academic setting can be a customized experience for you and your students. It is worth looking into the opportunities afforded by recruitment through the university and the specific colleges or schools on campus. See what is being offered at your local university museum or art gallery and see where there seem to be natural connections with what you are already teaching in the classroom. The most valuable selling point I have learned through working with teachers at an academic art museum is when seeking approval from administrators for a visit away from school, the combined visit to an art museum at a university or college isn’t hard to sell.  
-Scott Winterrowd, Curator of Education, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University

Tuesday 07. 1.14

Making the Most of an Art Museum Visit

Although I have spent twenty-plus years working as a museum educator in art museums, I was trained as a K-12 art educator. This has led my work in museums to be dedicated to working with K-12 audiences, writing curriculum and teaching a range of ages in diverse museum settings. K-12 teachers and their students are one of the most important audiences for museums. A great deal of attention and effort is made by most museums to reach K-12 teachers, and often there are groups of teachers who utilize a museum and its workshop offerings for teachers, taking full advantage of the resources provided. 

Over the course of this month’s NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog, I will be writing about ways to make your trips with students to museums insightful and engaging. While I know many of you probably already take your students to museums and may already engage some of the ideas and themes I will discuss, I hope this might be an opportunity to inspire you to think differently about how you utilize the museum experience in your classroom teaching.

In this entry, I will not be discussing logistics of field trip planning, but more of how to begin to get to know your local museum and how you can go about incorporating the museum experience as part of your curriculum.

If you haven’t already, go to your nearest gallery, museum, or arts center and find out what programs they are offering. If you are in a larger metropolitan area, most museums, as I have mentioned, have staff dedicated to school and teacher programs.  They often provide materials at the beginning of each school year that list upcoming exhibitions and programs for teachers that can engage your own personal learning about art and aspects of their exhibitions and permanent collection. Teacher training in museums is most often focused on you as an adult learner and not just you as a teacher. These programs are valuable for your own personal engagement and rejuvenation with real works of art. In addition to the opportunity to slow down and think in a different way outside of the classroom context, museums most often provide curricular materials or activities, along with images for your use in teaching back at school. One of the most valuable aspects of teacher trainings in museums is the shared learning experience with other educators, and sometimes from different discipline areas. Most teacher training programs offer the opportunity for idea sharing amongst teachers, and I feel it is one of the best ways to get new ideas for use in your teaching.

If it is not possible to attend workshop offerings, try to speak to someone on staff in the education department of the museum. Usually there is a dedicated person who works specifically with teacher audiences and they can often refer you to areas of their collection that might best fit your curricular needs. They will also be able to guide you to curricular materials and image resources that can be useful in introducing the art museum to students.

The most important aspect of preparing your students for a visit to the museum is building excitement and interest before the trip. Make sure you introduce something from the collection or some aspect of the museum before they visit. This could be done quickly by simply showing a few images and letting them know what they might be seeing, or actually assigning them a work of art from the collection to research before the visit. Each time I have had the opportunity of working with a class where students have some prior knowledge or engagement with the works of art they are going to see in person the experience for them (and for me as a museum educator) is completely transformed. This builds ownership and interest in the object before they see the real thing. This approach provides a whole new aspect to the dialogue with the object, comparing expectations from what was viewed in reproduction and what was learned before the visit, to how the object looks in person, and what about the object is revealed by examining the real thing.

The engagement with real works of art is one of the most important opportunities provided when visiting museums. It was in fact a high school field trip with an art class that ignited my interest in art and led the way to a career of working in the arts.       

-Scott Winterrowd, Curator of Education, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University