Mason Art Educators Encourage Families to ‘Step Into’ Works of Art

Posted: May 10, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: May 10, 2010 at 8:04 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Students in Teaching Critical Response to Art assembled for a photo at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. Professor Renee Sandell is at upper left. Photo courtesy of Renee Sandell

For the fifth year, Mason’s future art educators are offering opportunities for parents and their children to “step into” works of art with a creative, hands-on approach through a partnership with museums in the Washington, D.C., area.

Each year, students in Teaching Critical Response to Art, Pre-K to 12, work closely with a museum that allows them to step outside the classroom for a different kind of teaching experience. Taught by Renee Sandell, professor in the School of Art and director of graduate art education programs, the class is part of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

This year, Mason partnered with the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for a project titled “Talking About Art: From Past to Present, Here to There.” Students in the art education class worked with museum educators to develop a family tour called “Artful Adventures for Families.”

At the beginning of the semester, students visited the museum and chose one of their favorite works of art as a subject of study. Divided into groups of four, the students worked together to create a cohesive tour of four portraits in the gallery that could be connected through a theme.

MAT graduate student Kathleen Donohue and her group created a tour theme called “Mini-Art Detectives: Uncovering Famous People in America.”

For the tour, members of Donohue’s group selected portraits featuring various clues that could be used to not only determine the sitter in each portrait, but also the reason why the person in the portrait is important to American history.

“Teaching to the general public in a museum is a very different experience than teaching your own students each day,” says Donohue.

“In a museum, you are forced to connect with your audience through the piece of artwork since there are no prior opportunities to create relationships with your own students.”

Students (from left) Lisa Christensen, Katie Donohue and Crisy Meschieri at the National Art Education Association convention where they shared their experiences from the "Artful Adventures for Families" program. Photo courtesy of Renee Sandell

Donohue chose a portrait of John James Audubon, a French-American ornithologist whose large-scale dramatic bird drawings helped classify many of America’s birds for the first time.

Donohue began her section of the tour by briefly describing the details of the portrait to the families. She then asked a series of open-ended questions to get the participants involved and encouraged them to look for clues in the portrait that might reveal who Audubon was.

There were three important characteristics about Audubon that she wanted the families to learn: he was an artist, he had an interest in animals and he often explored new American territories.

Donohue ended her tour with an activity related to Audubon’s bird drawings.

“Overall, the Artful Adventures program is extremely valuable for both the participants and students,” says Donohue.

“As preservice art teachers, we are prepared for teaching students mostly in the classroom setting, but at the same time, it is important that we are exposed to other aspects of teaching, such as museum education.”

After the museum tour project concluded, students returned to the classroom and created “Art About Art,” a studio application for the museum based on the in-depth study of the artwork they chose.

MAT graduate students Kannan Cangro, Justin Gaudenzi, Danielle Sutter, Lisa Christensen and Crisy Meschieri attended the 2010 National Art Education Association convention held in Baltimore in April. In a roundtable discussion, they shared their experiences on this year’s collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and with the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2009.

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