Chapter 5, Art Museum Education by Olga Hubard
Fostering Interpretive Conversations: Some Specific Suggestions This chapter offers some specific suggestions to help beginning educators promote interpretive conversations, primarily open-ended conversations, in the gallery.
Preparation (1) Get to know the work as deeply as possible • Learn as much as possible through direct experience of the work. Watch your work closely for long hours. Concentrate on the task as a whole, on specific details, and again on the task as a whole. Allow the response to flow. If possible, go through this process with a few other people so they can consider perspectives beyond your own. This will help you better understand the work and its interpretability.
Record your observations, comments and questions as you have them. • Reflect on your responses, noting which aspects of the work your comments cover. Learn as much about the job as possible through Record any information you feel is particularly relevant to understanding the task itself (see Part 2 for more on contextual information tasks). (2) Prepare questions and prompts for conversation. • Ultimately, you can choose to promote conversations that unfold organically so that points of interest emerge in your viewers' reactions (see Chapters 1 and 2, open-ended, interpretive conversations), but you can still find them. Especially if you're a beginning educator, it's helpful to practice creating some prompts and questions ahead of time. This process can help you envision how your work will come to life through dialogue. This will further increase your intimacy with the work. Perhaps more importantly, the process of creating questions will help you get used to the language of generative questions. • Ask only questions that can be addressed based on observation of the work or based on the knowledge and experience of the viewer.
• Use conditional language when asking questions that invite interpretation or guesswork.
• When posing questions that elicit interpretation or speculation, use conditional language. For example, instead of asking, “What is the relationship between these two characters?” ask, “What might the relationship between these two characters be?”
• When writing a question, imagine how your audience will react to it.
When you're ready to start • Come to a session ready to provide a structured framework for exploration through prompts, questions, investigations, and/or responses.
Start a conversation with an open-ended prompt or question. Beginnings can be wide open (e.g., "What's the one thing that caught your attention?" or "What's happening in this picture?"2) or more focused (e.g., "This time I'm focusing on the mood.") Let's start with "Proposal for work..." or "How would you describe the character?"). • Allow conversations to flow organically. They may or may not actually ask questions, as viewers can take note of the aspects you identified without prompting. • Always listen carefully. Perhaps more than anything else, listening "carefully" is at the heart of the conversation facilitator's job. The way you listen communicates to your viewers that you care about what they have to say, and knowing this will encourage them to form and share ideas.
• When viewers provide interpretations, ask them to justify their opinion or identify visual evidence of what they saw.
Ask if anyone sees the work or a particular aspect of the work differently than what has been said so far. • Paraphrase viewers' comments to help clarify your thinking and understand what your viewers are thinking. Note that paraphrasing is not just repetition, but involves a new language and a new way of structuring ideas. A conditional language ensures that there is no absolute way to read any particular aspect of an operation, and supports a wide range of feasibility.
• Pay attention to your body language. For example, viewers may move their arms, head, or body, make certain facial expressions, or even create sound effects in response to your artwork. Acknowledge those reactions when it feels appropriate. They are an important part of the meaning-making process
• Be consistent when recognizing viewers' contributions.
• Endure silence. It is often a time to observe and think. • Periodically summarize what has been said as deemed appropriate.
Myungja Anna Koh