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Teaching with Collections Online

Learn how to make the most of the Eskenazi Museum of Art's collection in your classroom

Teaching with original works of art can be a rewarding way of engaging in conversation about most any topic; however, the challenge of such discussions can feel intimidating. By respecting each learner’s lived experience and allowing them to bring their experience into the conversation, feelings of trepidation can be mitigated and learners can engage with original works of art in meaningful ways.

Asking simple yet provocative questions can allow learners to share their ideas about original works of art and other topics. Harvard University’s Project Zero offers questions framed in thinking routines that may help you and your learners dig deeper.

One routine – See, Think, Wonder – engages learners in slow and close looking at images. When first approaching a work of art, ask, “What do you see?” and listen as learners share the colors, shapes, lines, and more they see. It is not unusual for learners to also say what they think or wonder about a work at this point. Then more challenging prompts, such as “I’m not looking for what you think or wonder at this point. I am curious about what you actually see,” helps learners understand the value of simply noticing the formal elements of the artist’s work.

To complete the routine, engage learners in conversation about what they think when they look at the work of art. You might remind them of the answers they provided during the discussion of what they saw. Allow the group to linger with your question and engage with each other as they consider their thinking. You might end with the question, “What do you wonder about this work?”

This simple routine may be the beginning of a rich conversation about the work being studied. You may notice your group wishing to dig deeper. Some follow up questions may come naturally to you, and you might also continue with questions like, “What do you think the artist was thinking when they made this work?” or “What might the artist have been feeling when she put this mark here?” or “What do you think this artist cared about?”

The artwork’s identifying information (what we call the tombstone) and description that accompanies the work will also enrich your conversation. After you have queried your learners about their perceptions and ideas, please take the time to read this information aloud together. Some questions may be answered, some new branches of rich conversation may present themselves, and some new ideas may emerge.

To engage further with original works of art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, please reach out to our education department. We can help learners of all ages and groups of all sizes to consider our collection through assistance in assignment development, tour planning, outreach activities, and more.

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"Teaching with Collections Online." Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2020.

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