Art museum education: Chapter 7, Productive Information-Making Facts
More practical in nature, this chapter provides suggestions for when and how educators can share relevant information with their audience. A work of art can mean different things depending on the (culturally engraved) questions, assumptions, and expectations people encounter. That is, multiple meanings, even contradictory meanings, need not be mutually exclusive. Rather than approaching it either way, it's helpful to think about the multi-layered meanings of art in relation to dialogue. Not just conversations between program participants, but also conversations between fresh and old ideas. A dialogue between different perspectives rooted in specific cultural, historical, personal or professional contexts. By coexisting, informative, and enriching each other in an appropriate and thoughtful way, gallery teachers can help the viewer build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with art. It is helpful to keep in mind that contextual information is valuable because it can help deepen and enrich the viewer's experience of the work.
So how can museum educators help audiences productively use contextual information within gallery conversations? How can we ensure that facts act as catalysts for creating important meaning?
Think of how important certain knowledge is to understanding a piece of art. For example, to understand Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937), it is more pertinent to know that the town of Guernica was bombed during the Spanish Civil War than to know that Picasso had many wives.
That is, some works specifically deal with the content of the author's life.
The Importance of Timing Providing information too early can block viewers' ideas. Giving it all at the end can have a "here's a real story" tone that invalidates participants' insights or tells them the "right" facts. Either way, you (and the information you have) become the authority out of the spirit of collective meaning-making. More importantly, if viewers receive all the information at the end, they will not benefit from new knowledge that deepens and enriches their investigations. So weaving information at key moments throughout the conversation is most productive. As the conversation gets closer to certain information, your audience is probably preparing you for what you have to say. Information can be shared if the line of investigation that the viewer is involved in can go no further without new knowledge. At that point, the information will underpin the viewer's reaction without diminishing the important findings.
Interpretation is born when people connect what they see with what they know about art and life. If you share an existing interpretation of the work, make it clear that this is someone's vision and not the "ultimate meaning" of the work.
Myungja Anna Koh