While this blog post is a few days overdue, it has taken me until now to think of how to categorize the past week and a half. However, I’ve finally realized that my recent experiences have been full of contrasts and the dual–often, multiple–roles an art educator might take on. I’ll elaborate on a few:
Art as a cultural journey/the “objectness” of objects:
Last week our group had two tours, each with a very different focus.
On Tuesday we hosted a 6th-8th grade group for an Art From Many Places/Museum Introduction tour and studio experience. The inclusion of the studio program necessitated that our tour be “quest” themed. In crafting our tour, we considered how we could present art objects in the museum as both representative of elements of a quest or narrative experience, as well as part of the cultural journey that one can experience within the museum. We ended up picking out quite an eclectic group of objects: an Indonesian guardian figure (I’m sure Emily will tell you all about it, as it’s her favorite Alsdorf gallery piece), Chinese Han dynasty tomb doors, a Nazca pot depicting warriors and anthropomorphic figures, Pierre-Jacques Volaire’s The Eruption of Vesuvius (1771), Gustave Moreau’s Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra (1875/76), and Joseph Turner’s Fishing Boats with Hucksters Bargaining for Fish (1837/38). While these are all interesting objects in and of themselves, a lot of the fun for us derived from linking these objects into a single “quest” experience. Our tour through the museum was transformed into a journey in which, through engaging with each object, students “acquired” the tools necessary to defeat their imminent encounter with the Hydra from Moreau’s painting. Needless to say, we had just as much fun as the students did “collecting skills and weaponry” while “journeying” around the globe:
“Treasure Map” for our Quest Tour, showing our journey around the globe [through the galleries].
Our Friday tour took on a completely different narrative. Our group hosted a science-oriented summer program for high school juniors and seniors who are primarily interested in pursuing academics/careers in the sciences. In turn, the group leader requested a tour geared towards thinking about the science aspects of art: conservation, restoration, gallery maintenence, etc. While neither Drew, Emily nor I are science people, we were interested in the topic and decided to take on the challenge.
What was interesting for me was that in researching our objects for this tour we were forced to consider the “objectness” of objects in addition to their being representations of a cultural context. While we had our share of frustrations gathering accessible information on conservation pertaining to works on display, in the end we ended up really enjoying the process of thinking about a different aspect of both the museum and its objects. Emily wowed the group (and me) with her explanations of the architecture and lighting of the Modern Wing, the Prints and Drawings galleries and the challenges that come with conserving works on paper and, later on, of the x-rays that reveal earlier paintings underneath Picasso’s The Old Guitarist (1903-1904). Meanwhile, Drew talked about paint color and pigment and about past restoration projects for The Assumption of the Virgin (El Greco, 1577-79) and the scientific nature of Seurat’s pointillist technique, while I talked about Toulouse-Lautrec’s Au Moulin Rouge. Emily pointed me to a really interesting article by art historian Reinhold Heller, “Rediscovering Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge,” in which Heller links the provenance and characters (specifically, the garish depiction of the cabaret dancer May Milton) within Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous painting in order to hypothesize why Au Moulin Rouge (1892/95) appears on two pieces of joined canvas.
Talking about Au Moulin Rouge (1892/95) by Toulouse-Lautrec on our Art, Science, and Conservation Tour
Full-time Intern/Summer Tourist
This is a dual role that is more about life outside the museum, than life as an art educator, but that has emerged quite prominently in the past week or so nonetheless. Sometimes striking a balance between the two has been difficult. However, because of this internship I have a full summer to explore Chicago (+ free admission to many museums!), and as many of the interns know, I’m always up for checking out new things. I’m honestly not sure if I could choose my favorite museum experience–Lincoln Park Zoo, Aquarium, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago History Museum were all fantastic. And I still have lots on my agenda: the Field Museum, Hyde Park/the Robie House, Cubs game (happening next week!), Second City Comedy show (happening at the end of the month). Also, a friend just told me about this free exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright. Matt and I also got a list of off-the-beaten-path stores, restaurants, and theaters to check out from a Chicago parent in the Millenium Park Family Fun tent! I can say, however, my favorite exploring on foot experience: Old Town. As an architecture nerd, I loved strolling around this historic part of the city and checking out the beautiful homes on historic Astor Street.
Adult Tour/Family Fun
This week has particularly embodied the multiple roles of a museum educator: Monday I presented my first public adult tour, while the rest of this week has been spent working the AIC booth in the Millennium Park Family Fun Festival tent.
Despite some initial anxiety, I actually really enjoyed the process of preparing for and presenting my adult tour with Senior Lecturer Annie Morse. While the tour was supposed to be a Modern Wing highlights, I was excited for the opportunity to rewind a bit, and start with a recent acquisition, Slender Woman with Vase by the Hungarian painter Jozsef Rippl-Ronai. Part of the excitement of researching this object was that because it was a recent acquisition and by a lesser-known artist, I got to go to the Medieval-Modern European Curatorial Department to conduct my research. While there, I browsed through a few English sources on the painting, as well as through color copies of many, many exhibition pamphlets, catalogues, and articles on the artist in other languages. Also included in file were the AIC conservation staff’s various photos of the object and the curator’s proposal for where and how the painting would be displayed in the museum’s galleries. It was so cool to see the amount of research that goes into an object acquisition and the amount of resources that get compiled. So cool!
I presented on two other objects that I also found really interesting. Following a discussion of Rippl-Ronai’s engagement with Les Nabis, his interest in Art Nouveau and the decorative (and corresponding rejection of narrative in favor of a mood-oriented aesthetic), I talked about a coffee and tea service by the architect/designer Josef Hoffmann. Researching this object engaged my developing interest in the decorative arts and in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century arts and crafts movements, specifically. My presentation on this object took up the aspects of the arts and crafts movements I find particularly interesting: the designers’ interest in equating the decorative arts with the fine arts and the interest in creating unified aesthetic environments through high-quality hand-crafted goods in order to positively impact the moral qualities of those that interact with those objects and environments.
Silver Coffee and Tea Service designed by Josef Hoffmann (1916), made by the Wiener Werkstatte (1922)
As a whole, the tour took on the topic of modernism by tracing its principles through modern and contemporary art and architecture. Annie presented on an architectural rendering by Richard Neutra and Georges Vantongerloo’s Interrelation of Volumes from the Ellipsoid (1926). This served as an interesting complement to the issues my first two objects raised regarding the diminished boundaries between the decorative arts and fine arts (i.e. what are the similarities and differences between architecture and sculpture?) What was really exciting was how all of the themes that arose during our tour came together in our last object, David Hockney’s American Collectors (Portrait of Fred and Marcia Weisman) (1968). This painting also proved–unsurprisingly–to be a particularly engaging painting. As Emily expressed when I was preparing my lesson plan, American Collectors is so uncomfortable to look at because of how much tension is present, but if you stick it out, the painting has a lot of depth and layered meanings to it that are great to uncover and discover.
David Hockney’s American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), 1968
The rest of this week has been spent in Millennium Park facilitating Lichtenstein-inspired art projects with youngsters and their families. I’ve really enjoyed this time chatting with families–and, yes, making art creations of my own to hang in the docent room. Besides sharing with families information about Family Programs at the Art Institute, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from locals and tourists alike, and learning about off-the-beaten-path places to check out in Chicago and about other hometowns/cities and countries, respectively. It’s interesting to observe and hear what kinds of experiences children have had with art–whether it is art making or museum going.
Matt and I with our game faces on for greeting families in Millennium Park!
I’m practically a Roy Lichtenstein.
Whether in the museum, exploring the city, touring with adults, or crafting with kids, every day continues to be a learning experience and I continue to be excited for what’s next!