I am an independent educator with over 17 years experience in art museum and academic settings. My scholarly expertise is in art history of the late 20th century, with particular emphasis on philosophical issues involving embodiment, subjectivity, and gender.  I know that sounds pretty esoteric, but if you move past the highfalutin fifty-cent words, it just means I like thinking about how all of our senses and all of our previous experiences contribute to the way we each understand a work of art.

My passion is teaching.  I denied this for a really long time. Coming from a family where almost all the women taught in public schools, it was the last profession I ever intended to enter.  But, as I’ve gotten older and dabbled in other careers, I keep coming back to teaching as the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure and sense of professional accomplishment.

What I love most is the opportunity to help people realize, or perhaps deepen, their interest in the material.  For much of my career, this has meant helping folks feel more confident in their own ability to find meaning in works of art, especially contemporary art which tends to confuse, intimidate, or speaking frankly, piss off a lot of people.  I’ve said many times that dealing with art is kind of like Dr. Spock’s thoughts about parenthood:   “You know more than you think you know.”

Knowledge builds confidence and practice builds knowledge, so my strategy is to give students lots of practice looking at art and talking about it.  Frankly, one of the most difficult skills to master is learning to communicate visual (and phenomenological if you like dollar words) perceptions in a clear, accurate, and engaging way.  Think about the saying:  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”   So, how do you translate the overload of information gained almost instantly through visual perception into the clumsy linear sequence of words that language requires?

I hold fast to importance of the art object as the primary source of art historical study, so learning to look closely is essential.  Likewise, anyone can say what they see and start thinking about their own associations and ideas about a work’s meaning.   Add to that some specialized terminology, art historical context, and any specialized symbolism, and viewers can begin to practice visual analysis and create interpretations based on the synthesis of existing knowledge and newfound information.

The trick is to practice communicating these ideas in as many contexts and styles of discourse as possible.  I give my students a variety of assignments with this goal in mind: formal academic papers; informal blog posts or responses; writing museum labels and exhibition reviews; engaging in small group discussions with their peers; participating in large class discussions and debates; producing audioguide podcasts for museum goers.

In addition to building students’ skills of visual analysis, critical thinking, and communication, this process underscores the importance of social exchange and discussion in the study of art.  The object serves as a catalyst for discourse, and we find that it is this broader conversation—-which may extend well beyond the art object itself—that helps us discern personal significance and cultural meaning in art.

 

 

 

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