A museum exhibition is designed to bring people to objects, whether those people are children, students, scholars, or anyone in between. As teaching museums, both the Logan and the Wright champion the use of collections outside of exhibition—bringing objects to people through collections usage activities. Whether it’s in a classroom, a lab, or through your wireless connection, exploring objects in new ways provides learning alternatives in an interdisciplinary liberal arts education.
This semester, the faculty of the art department have been exploring innovative ways to utilize the collections of the Wright Museum. Visiting Assistant Professor David Boffa and the museum’s director and Assistant Professor of Art History Joy Beckman have both brought their classes into the museum lab for different yet equally successful activities.
Beckman’s assignment focused on the museum’s collection of Asian icons. Students were asked to analyze both style and iconography through close examination of the objects.
Boffa’s activity centered on developing the ability to accurately describe an object or work of art, with a twist. His students were paired up at a table with a partition between them. Each had an art object that the other could not see, and they had to describe the object to their partner who would attempt to draw it. This required a very close analysis of the object and very colorful description.
In Boffa’s own words:
“The activity showed students just how difficult it is to describe visual and formal characteristics with language. In essence, talking and writing about art involves a translation from one medium to another, with all the associated problems of any translation. One student noted how normal descriptive terms—such as words to describe an action, like running—lost much of their meaning in the context of trying to accurately describe and recreate a work of painting or sculpture. My goal was to highlight the importance of these language choices when talking about writing about art, which in turn forces us to be more critical and analytic in our looking and seeing. I think in that respect the activity was a great success, and I look forward to seeing how students transfer the experience to their written formal analyses.”