The “fine art” of enjoying a museum

I am well acquainted with a few museums. As a college student about to attend Radcliffe (Harvard) I was filling out my class selection before I entered my freshman year. We could only take four classes. I found three that met my requirements for the first semester and was pondering the fourth when my Mom made a suggestion. She had graduated from Radcliffe and  said she had taken Fine Arts 13 and thought I would enjoy it. I put that in as my fourth selection and headed off to meet the college world confident I could make a change if I wanted to.

Fine Arts 13 was a survey course of art history. We were frequently sent in to the Boston Museum of Fine arts to see the real art, instead of slides we saw in class, often with a particular piece of art we needed to write a paper about. I learned to stand with my classmates in front of the art and listen to them talk about color, diagonal lines etc. and went home and wrote the papers. I wasn’t sure about these assessments but I did it… is the excuse “every one was doing it” a sufficient reason? I did enjoy the course.

I had thought I would be a math major but my high school math had not gone far enough and I barely survived Math 1 A. I took physics for a year. I took an architecture class from a visiting prof who would only be there one year. By the middle of my junior year the dean called me into the office to try and figure out what I was majoring in. She listed my possibilities from the odd list of classes I had taken. I decided to major in the “line of least resistance”… History of Art.

When I taught third grade in Bellingham, the social studies curriculum for that grade was Indians.(Remember, this was waaaaaay before someone decided we should have the PC terminology “Native Americans.”)  There were few materials available except a field trip to the local museum. I set out with my class for the museum and was awe struck when we climbed to the third floor and saw that the entire Indian collection was housed behind two large glass cases and two small. How in the world would we even sit still for this field trip.

I should not have worried. Mr. V had the class sit cross legged on the floor in front of the first case and directed the kids to watch each piece as he pointed out the various objects and asked and answered questions. The minute he saw a restless body he had them stop and scrinch (if there is such a word) over to the other case still sitting on the floor. Later they scrinched back again and the morning continued. An hour passed (or was it less?) and not one child stopped watching, listening, and asking very good questions. I was wrong about the field trip. Mr. V made it perfect and I took other classes there for different exhibits in the subsequent years I taught in Bellingham.

I had a great laugh when one class visited a  collection of small, but famous paintings on tour from a major art museum. There was Mr. V, and he had the class looking for shapes, diagonal lines and use of color. You really learn about a piece of art when you dissect it.

I was reminded of this as I watched a concert on PBS held at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida. I had been to that museum as well with a third grade class. The experience was no where near as satisfactory as the visits to the Bellingham museum. It was then I really appreciated Mr. V! The docent at the Ringling should have taken a lesson from him even though there was much more to see than four cases of Indian artifacts.
Thank you Mr. Vanderway.

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3 Responses to The “fine art” of enjoying a museum

  1. Linda Baie says:

    My goodness, what goes around, comes around, doesn’t it? Those colors and diagonal lines will support you no matter where you are! I like that you talked about museums, but the post was really about a wonderful teacher, Mr. V, who could make so many things interesting, even to the young ones. You made such wonderful connections in this, like your college classes to your teaching, & the watching of the concert. I’m not sure I have so many details in my brain of my college years; most were not so memorable! Thanks for the stories!

  2. Tam says:

    And we became teachers because………of a teacher whether it was because of the subject itself or that the teacher made it live for us. Thanks for reminding of those good times with teachers!!!

  3. Elizabeth G says:

    I loved reading your post and watching the stories weave together. Mr. V sounds like an incredible mentor and teacher. His passion is just as tangible as your own. Thank you for sharing.

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