A Museum Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Adventure with Preservice Teachers

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  • National Art Education Association

    A Museum Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Adventure with Preservice TeachersAuthor(s): DEBORAH KUSTERSource: Art Education, Vol. 61, No. 5 (September 2008), pp. 33-39Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20694755 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 17:04

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  • A Museum Collaboration

    and Interdisciplinary


    with Preservice Teachers


    m "Why don t you practice what you preach?"

    ^?? m / How many times have we heard, said, or thought that?

    As an art education professor, I plead guilty as

    charged. Contrary to what I advocate, I plan each semester of my art education methods and

    practicum courses with a tightly scheduled and

    prescribed agenda of separate, specified topics to

    present to my students. Kowalchuk (1997) denoted

    that universities rarely teach art content in the

    format that is appropriate for presentation in the

    schools. She cited art history courses, for example, that typically present information chronologically through lecture. Bohn, Reed, and Jerich (2001)

    noted that universities traditionally promote the

    "teacher-as-dispenser-of-knowledge" model (p. 15) and reward individual achievement, not collabora

    tive work (Rutherford, 2005). Are preservice art

    teachers graduating from our institutions having

    only upon rare occasion personally experienced the

    teaching strategies we preach to be most appro

    priate and meaningful? If people have difficulty applying what they know in novel situations (Perkins & Salomon, 1988), how can novice teachers be

    expected to successfully bridge the gap between educational theories and practice?

    This is an account of my journey of reformatting my courses to provide preservice teachers personal

    experiences with theories that I believe are impor tant, and, therefore, putting into practice my own

    preaching. The purpose of this article is to describe

    an investigative project implemented the fall semester of 2006 with my art education students.

    I describe here what I witnessed my students

    experiencing, as well as my own reflections of this

    semesters adventure.

    Teaching Strategies One important curriculum strategy that I promote

    to my future teachers is critical, aesthetic inquiry in

    response to interpreting works of art. Critical, aesthetic inquiry is based on an ongoing wondering and questioning about art (Parsons, 2000). It

    incorporates new contextual information, with an

    ongoing reexamination of ones views in light of the

    new information. The viewer understands that

    interpreting a work of art includes active dialogue with others so as to consider different voices for an

    intersubjective understanding (Parsons, 2000; Cary, 1998; Mayer, 1999; Moxey, 1994). Critical, aesthetic

    inquiry supports scholars such as Bruner (1986), Paul (1993), Stout (1997), and Weil (1994), who believed learning is a constructive process.

    Knowledge cannot be simply transmitted; we must

    make sense of things for ourselves. The ways

    knowledge is processed and how it reflects human

    interests, ideology, and experiences need to be a part of the curriculum. "The emphasis is not on content


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  • itself, but on how students think about content, on digesting ideas and finding meaning in art and all other subjects through their own

    thinking" (Stout, 1997, p. 98). To promote critical, aesthetic inquiry the

    teacher takes on the role identified by Bohn, Reed, and Jerich (2001) as "orchestrator-of

    learning" (p. 49), who arranges and exposes students to a variety of experiences, view

    points, and contexts. The teacher

    supports learners in under

    standing how to evaluate the information in relation to their interpretations. David N. Perkins (1994, 2000) emphasized critical inquiry into works of art as a way to develop what he calls the

    "intelligent eye." He speaks of the goal to

    develop reflective thinking, a capacity of mind

    that implies "patience, open-mindedness, concern, commitment, persistence, and a spirit of investigation" (Smith, 2000, p. 120).

    Another important teaching strategy is

    introducing interdisciplinary connections or

    integrating other disciplines within the study and creation of works of art. The contextual

    information such as the social, historical, and

    cultural help students better understand the

    significance and meanings of art from an

    interdisciplinary perspective (Wilson, 1986; Tarnas, 1991; Shlain, 1991; Neperud, 1995; Ulbricht, 1998). According to Ulbricht (1998), collaboration adds another dimension to

    interdisciplinary curriculum, allowing each

    participant to make unique contributions to

    the learning environment. Ulbricht recom

    mended using interdisciplinary teaching so that new understandings are developed as a

    result of the connections.

    In addition, having personally been both a classroom teacher and a museum educator, I stress the value of museums as community resources and collaborative partners. I was

    continually astounded by the significance of

    interacting with original works of art for

    visitors of all ages. Hazelroth and Moore

    (1998) were not exaggerating when they stated that: "Original works are inherent storehouses

    of profound and lifechanging experiences"

    (p. 23). Teaching with objects of art opens indispensable avenues for understanding ourselves and creating links of understanding into other societies throughout the world past and present. Art teachers that include

    interdisciplinary connections when planning museum visits can provide rich experiences for

    their students (Berry, 1998; Floyd, 2002).

    The Project The project was centered on a partnership with the Arkansas Arts Center, the

    states primary art museum, which is located in Little Rock, within commuting distance from the university where I teach, the University of Central Arkansas

    (UCA). I wrote and received a grant from the UCA Foundation to have six works

    from the Arts Center s permanent collection reproduced into teaching poster sets.

    The posters would include information about the artist, the artwork, the historical/

    cultural contexts, suggested inquiry strategies and extension activities printed on the

    backside. The reproduction posters were to be made available for use by teachers in

    schools across the state.

    The selection process for the six works of art was rather intuitive on my part. I met

    with the Arts Center s Curator of Education and we began looking at works with released copyrights. After randomly looking at various choices, several "called to

    me," with one or two falling into certain categories. Eventually an underlying relation to music was identified with several works, so we proceeded to search for

    other works under that theme, attempting to diversify in terms of art styles, media,

    subject matter, and cultural contexts. The resulting six finalists were: At the Clef Club (1975) by Romare Bearden; Jazz Band (1922) by Max Beckmann; Suprematist Composition (circa 1922) by Ilya Chashnik; Isadora Duncan (circa 1910-1916) by Robert Henri; Addicted to Rhythm-M-#1 (1994) by Stoney Lamar; and Dark Rapture (circa 1935) by Howard Stern.

    My art education students were given the challenge to research the art and artists

    represented by these six works from the Arts Centers collection. They chose what

    information would be most helpful and applicable for teachers in the classroom. In addition, they were to design specific suggestions for ways to utilize the works of art to build curricular lessons and units. Weight was given to their assignments because

    they were participants in a project that would result in a product for other educators

    to utilize. We spent the large part of the semester investigating these six works of art

    from various perspectives. Though I had chosen the works of art, I was not

    acquainted with several of the artists, nor did I have a preconceived idea as to the

    final outcome of our project. I was in the role of facilitator, not expert.

    Our Semester's Adventure The first days of class I lead students in spontaneous interpretive activities to

    cultivate personal connections to the works of art.11 asked, "Which one of these

    works of art would you choose to be a new friend and why?" While closely observing each work, they brainstormed lists of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and

    verbs to form descriptive and cumulative sentences and cinquain2 poems. After this

    acquaintance period, students were asked to list questions they had about their "new

    friends," which formed the outline or foundation for their future research and my future facilitative planning.

    I scheduled times for students to conduct their research using primary sources

    within the Arkansas Arts Center Library and while actually viewing the original artworks. To integrate other disciplines into our inquiry, I provided images of our six

    works of art and sought responses and connecting references from several literature

    and music professors at UCA. Students' questions about Henri's gestural drawing of

    Isadora Duncan prompted me to contact a modern dancer from Little Rock to

    further our understanding. In our search for musical connections to Chashnik's

    Suprematist Composition, my Internet searches led me to a Russian saxophonist,

    Sergey Letov, who had participated in a "Suprematizm Project" in 2003. We

    corresponded over the course of the semester, and I purchased a compact disc of

    their original musical performance for my students to experience. In addition, I

    integrated a connection to technology as a teaching tool by introducing WebQuests3 and requesting students create WebQuests that referenced our local Arts Center's

    works. Finally, I arranged times with cooperating art teachers for my students to

    teach art units to children in local elementary and high schools.


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  • Some of the interdisciplinary highlights from this semester s project included dancer Lucy DuBoses visit to

    our classroom. As we focused our attention on Henri's

    drawing of Isadora Duncan, she read key passages from

    Duncans autobiography, My Life. She draped herself and

    performed a dance much as Duncan would have as we sat

    encircled around her. It Was as if the drawing took on life and we could visualize Robert Henri passionately striving to capture her essence. Edward Gordon Craig was quoted as

    describing Duncan:

    She was speaking her own language, not echoing any ballet master, and so she came to move as no one had

    ever seen anyone move before. The dance ended, she

    again stood quite still. No bowing, no smiling?

    nothing at all. Then again the music is off, and she

    runs from it?it runs after her then?for she has gone ahead of it. (Zavrel, 2002) Dr. Jonathan Glenn, a professor from the English

    department and associate provost, also honored us with

    a visit. Glenn thoughtfully considered what poems came

    to mind when viewing our focused works of art. The

    minimalist and non-objective qualities of Chashniks (a student of Kasimar Malevich) Suprematist Composition was fascinating. Glenn thought of poet Archibald MacLeish (1925) as he viewed this composition of red and black squares:

    MacLeish's poem, "Ars poetica," is a sort of manifesto

    for the being rather than the meaning of a poem. After a series of lovely analogies (which, of course,

    refer relentlessly to things outside the poem, just as we might expect redness or rectangularity or the

    sense of "entrance" in Ilya Chasnik's work to evoke

    connections in a viewer's mind), MacLeish throws

    down this famous challenge: "A poem should not

    mean / But be." (personal communication, Sept. 23,

    2006) Glenn made another interesting comparison with the

    poem, "How Everything Happens (Based on a Study of the Wave)" written by May Swenson (1970) and

    published in Iconographs (1970). This poem was referenced in relation to Addicted to Rhythm-M-#1 (1994) by Stoney Lamar. Just as Lamar's wooden sculpture piece echoed the rhythms within the wood, the structure of the

    poem echoed the rhythm of a wave. Glenn's poetic

    readings opened our eyes to the artistry of language as a

    parallel to visual imagery.

    The value of the investigative process using primary sources was exemplified in our trips to the Arkansas Arts

    Center. My students experienced first-hand the support and cooperation of the museum staff. The librarian

    gathered files and books on each of our artists and

    opened the library before public hours to accommodate

    our class time. The curators allowed us into the vault area

    for viewing pieces not currently on display, and actually included the Bearden work in the coinciding permanent collection exhibition especially for us. I witnessed my students' enthusiasm for their "mission" heightened as

    they were treated as important players in this collabora

    tive project. One student noted, "I learned about dealing with museums 'behind-the-scenes' and that they are

    receptive, not standoffish at all, in dealing with educators.

    They have great resources, like the library and some

    contact information" (personal communication,

    December 11, 2006). Another student exclaimed, "Museums are our friends. They have a great amount of

    resources that we can use. I didn't know museums had a

    library, much less that it was open to the public"

    (personal communication, December 11, 2006).

    By the time in the semester we visited the museum,

    we regarded the artworks as our personal "friends."



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