Learning in Art Museums: A Sustainable Learning Experience

Term: 1 Year: 2019

‘An experience is distinct from the flow of everyday experience, focused on a movement of anticipation and culmination, one that finally comes to completion’ John Dewey

‘These are the kind of experiences we want to make possible for visitors to art museums. We hope that the time they have spent with us in our galleries has yielded special experiences different and separate from whatever else they have known. We hope that they will leave having understood one work of art, or many, in a deep and satisfying way’ Rika Burnham.

As art teachers these are the opportunities we want our students to have when they visit a gallery or art museum. We also take our students to an art museum to provide them with a direct experience with a work of art that we may have discussed in class, or that we are using for inspiration. Many teachers and art gallery educators unanimously agree that by providing students with the opportunity to view and discuss an artwork whilst standing in front of it and interacting with it. This heightens the students understanding of the work, the ideas expressed, and the materials and techniques used to create it. Experiences in art galleries should be planned so they become sustainable and embedded into the teaching and learning program and shouldn’t be considered as an isolated experience. Therefore, planning an experience prior to visiting an art museum and building on the activities during the visit, can link explicitly to the curriculum.

Many teachers value practical activities that are exemplified in the Making and Responding structures of the Australian curriculum. Activities that provide inspiration for the development of an artwork through the use of materials and techniques, or build on ideas expressed in an artwork can reinforce the connection between making and responding – where the practical activity is the response to the artwork, and forms part of the interpretation. Many galleries now facilitate programs that involve practical activities to encourage children to think about artworks deeply, thus, reinforcing Critical and Creative Thinking.

It’s important to facilitate the visit in manner that adds value and depth to your learning program at school, rather than approaching the visit as an isolated experience. Some of the key concepts of the curriculum teachers have identified that they use is, the relationship of the artist, viewer and artwork through the exhibition of artworks in a variety of art exhibition spaces. Experiences can also connect to the curriculum by investigating the practice of the artist, visual language and the expression of contemporary or current ideas.

So, reflect on that next art gallery visit, have a discussion with the gallery educators, who are trained professionals working in art museums and see the effects in the long term.

Kathryn Hendy-Ekers
Curriculum Manager, Visual Arts & Media
Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority