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Digging Deeper: AIC Day One.

Cooling off at the Millenium Park fountains!!!

So, the fountains photo is actually getting ahead of myself a little, but it is one of the pictures from the last two days that really sums up the HEAT in Chicago!

I’ve been taking the El down to the Art Institute to attend a class; Digging Deeper: Connecting the Art Museum to Your Classroom.

Today was day two of three- I had intended to write a post yesterday, but we covered so much, and the day was so hot, that I think my brain melted a little.

So yesterday I met (for the second time, I think) Georgina and Grace, two brilliant and inspiring AIC museum educators, and a ton of really amazing educators from all kinds of schools in the Chicago area. We talked a bit about our goals for the three-day class- for me, I really want to dust off and reconfigure my curriculum, work a bit more on cross-curricular teaching (maybe co-teaching again someday) and smooth out the logistics of getting my students to the Art Institute, either with a field trip, or put together some kind of a packet or webpage that will make it easier to go with their families.

After an introductory exercise with some reproductions from the collection, we headed up to Gallery 263 to look at some of the works. (More on that link to collections page later…) We settled in to our little foldy chairs around this painting.

Georgina instructed us to not pay any attention to the label, but I confess, the printed word draws my attention- I saw a name and the word “Mexican” but remembered to not pay attention before I saw the title. We looked- really attended- for about 2 minutes before she asked very simply and quietly: “What do you notice?” And we discussed all of the things we noticed. (I blurted the “Mexican” information and said that I noticed some Aztec motifs in the woman’s face, jade ear-plugs, hair ornament, etc… I couldn’t resist reading!! And I recognized a lot of Pre-Columbian stylization from my art history classes. I wasn’t trying to show off, really!)

You’ll probably observe a lot of the things we did if you enlarge the thumbnail, (go ahead, check it out, I’ll try to make a good connection for you at the end on this, too.) but we also did address how important it is to really go to the primary source in the museum, as there are so many nuances of texture, scale, and so on that you just cannot appreciate from any kind of a reproduction, no matter how close you can zoom in.

After we had discussed this single work in fairly close detail, we were invited to wander the room. It had about fifteen or so paintings, a small bronze figure, and a large bowl. The three dimensional works slipped past my attention at first!

We did a great exercise with slips of paper, writing down what we noticed about the other works in that particular gallery room, laying them on the floor in front of the paintings. When we had an observation about the room as a whole, we laid a slip of paper on the bench in the middle- and when we had an idea that tied two works together, we stretched ribbons to indicate the connection. It’s called floorstorming, and we did another floorstorming exercise today, too- it worked really well, and would work really well for students that aren’t as blabby as yours truly— and even for talkers like myself, gave me a little more time to compose my thoughts on the matter. (I couldn’t find any good resources that summarize it well on a cursory search- just another slightly different technique online)

The whole day yesterday and today, we were instructed to not look at the museum information on the artworks– an idea so counter intuitive to the part of myself that wants to understand and have confidence over various little parts of the world by researching the heck out of them.

Okay, we can’t look at the labels… maybe a peek? Nope, don’t look, don’t look, don’t look…!

Oh, it was so hard for me. But I started to notice something- in the same way that having an open ended, divergent-thinking project is so important to me, not reading the label prevents you from slipping right into the left-brain-categorizing-concentric behavior that a neat little label has a tendency to prompt by its very nature. Wow, nice epiphany!

We headed down to the Mesoamerican galleries. Things have been shuffled quite a bit from a few years ago, and the space and displays are much improved for it. This time, we were invited to look around a smaller section of the hall and choose an artwork and complete a worksheet with two questions: make some notes about what intrigues you, and write a “biography” of the object. Everyone had great observations and insights, including Peter, who picked this object.

Again, we were not to look at the labels… I tried to find something that I didn’t know a whole lot about from any art history classes. Several of our group shared their worksheets; Peter speculated that this object showed someone in a costume, to directly interface with the god it represented. But he was having a hard time reading the expression that was on the costume’s face. I was literally biting my lip, trying to not to give away the story I knew about this particular god. After everyone had talked, I shared that I would not have had the same insight as Peter because I knew too much about the background of this work: I told the story of Xipe Totec, the flayed god- whose worshippers would wear the actual skins of their sacrificial victims until they decayed off the wearer. The reason Peter couldn’t see an expression on the face? It was a dead person’s skinned face, worn as a mask. My knowledge and revulsion wouldn’t allow me to see what Peter had seen: a way of getting into the god, in order to make a divine connection.

After we had gone through everyone’s reflections, Georgina asked if we made any connections between the Tamayo painting from earlier, and the objects in this gallery. At the time, I was thinking I had kind of blown the connections, and the ‘a-ha’ experience of making the referential connections to the Mexican and Aztec cultures… then, she said, specifically the object that Peter picked- that character of a mask- and the red streaks and outlines that we had discussed fell into place in my head with a thunk. Wow. What a revelation that I was not expecting at all.

And that was all before lunch!

In the afternoon, we did a scavenger hunt- exploring the museum and essentially doing a critique sheet, very different from my handout, and quite likely more effective! I’ll share it if I am able and link it here and in my pages if I can.

And if that weren’t enough, we spent the last 45 minutes digging around the AIC website: Holy cow, it deserves a post of its own. For now, though- you should check out the Educator Resource Finder. We are talking PDFs of lesson plans, complete teacher manuals for you to use, artwork resource packets, well, stuff that makes my little list of resources online cry for mommy. Holy cow what a treasure trove!

Go look at some NOW!

Signing off for now; I need my rest for tomorrow, day three of three!!


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