Art museum education: Chapter 6, Negotiating personal and cultural meanings.
In museum galleries, classrooms, and public spaces, art appreciators of all ages use language to respond to and interpret works of art.
Museum visitor responses to art, at their best, can not only contribute to "our collective understanding of the work", but also allow individuals to access aspects of themselves yet to be discovered. Despite the openness of the work, not all readings of the subject are valid.
For an interpretation to be valid, the characteristics of the work must support it. The parallel goal is to help the audience understand how their insights constitute valuable layers in the evolving meaning of the work, even when the audience's interpretation may differ from the artist's idea. You can share your description and invite the audience to see if and how your work embodies the author's idea.
The facilitator may also ask the viewer to consider whether the artwork presents a meaning beyond that expressed by the artist. If the audience is mature enough, the facilitator can openly invite them to reflect on the role artists and interpreters play in shaping the meaning of a work of art. However, even if the audience does not accurately identify certain symbols, they are somewhat accessible. For example, most younger audiences unfamiliar with Marilyn Monroe will still recognize the quality of the glamorous media star's face in Warhol's photos, even if they don't identify Marilyn as such.
The point is that the tension between a cultural symbol's original meaning and its subsequent interpretation can be narrower or broader and more or less significant. If the facilitator knows the scope and severity of the violation, it will be easier for them to determine the amount and type of information needed to address it. However, many of the objects we present as works of art in museums and schools are not strictly "to be seen" or interpreted, but are made for practical, ceremonial, religious or other cultural reasons.
Art museum education is worth the effort. Because when the act of balancing works well, a relationship with art can help viewers ponder what it means to be alive for themselves and others, and how we all fit into our shared human experience.
Myungja Anna Koh