Educational criticisms of two art museum education programs : What constitutes success?


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Educational criticisms of two art museum education programs : What constitutes success?
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ix, 234 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Kilgore, Karen, 1954-
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Art museums -- Educational aspects   ( lcsh )
Art museums -- Evaluation   ( lcsh )
Education   ( lcsh )
Curriculum and Instruction thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- Curriculum and Instruction -- UF
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1988.
Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Karen Kilgore.

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University of Florida
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aleph - 024801642
oclc - 20082618
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Copyright 1988


Karen Kilgore

To Mom, Carla, and Rich,

who were always willing to listen

and to Jenny, Mandy, and Will,

who were always willing to

provide a child's eye view of matters


Conducting this study has been a challenging as well as

satisfying experience. I would like to express my gratitude to those

people who have made this experience a rewarding enterprise.

First, I would like to thank the members of my doctoral

committee: Ray Ferguson, whose down-to-earth perspective has helped

keep my feet planted firmly on the ground and moving in a forward

direction and whose gentle smile has been a source of encouragement;

Arthur Newcomb, who provided support through his quiet assurance and

helpful comments; and Forrest Parkay, who continually expressed

interest and enthusiasm in my endeavors. I would also like to give a

special thank you to my chair, Dr. Dorene Ross, and my cochair,

Professor Roy Craven. Dr. Ross is one of those rare individuals who

inspires not only through words but through actions. I have benefited

not only from her advice and assistance but also from her example as a

researcher and a teacher. Professor Roy Craven has known me the

longest and has continually encouraged me to continue with my studies.

Through the years, he has given me advice, support, and encouragement,

both personally and professionally. He has shared with me the joys of

art and the pleasures to be found in the world of museums.

I would also like to thank my friends and family who have given

me love and understanding. Throughout the study, they helped me keep

my perspective and reminded me of the truly important matters in life.

Finally, I would like to thank the staff of the museums who

participated in the study. They graciously invited me into their

lives, offering me kindness, assistance, and information. This study

would not have been possible without their help. During the course of

this study, I shared with them the difficulties and rewards of

cultivating an appreciation of art in the audiences they served. As I

observed their endeavors, I was continually reminded of a passage from

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (1962).

With nothing can one approach a work of art so
little as with critical words: They always come
down to more or less happy misunderstandings.
Things are not all so comprehensible as one would
mostly have us believe; most events are
inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no
word has ever entered, and more inexpressible
than all else are works of art, mysterious
existences, the life of which, while ours passes
away, endures. (p. 17)

I hope this dissertation does justice to the museum staff's efforts to

express the inexpressible.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ......... ........................ ... iv

ABSTRACT ........... ............................ ..viii


I BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY .... ................... 1

Statement of the Problem ....... ................ 2
Design of the Study ......... .................. 3
Rationale for the Study ........ ................. 4
Possible Use of the Results ..... .. .............. 5
Review of the Literature . .... ................ 7
Clarification of the Study .. .................... 17

II METHODOLOGY ....... ...................... 19

Rationale ...... ........................ 21
Procedures ........ ....................... ... 23
Methods of Data Collection ..... ............... .... 28
Presentation of Data ...... .................. 46
Validity, Generalizability, and Other Matters ... ...... 52
Summary ......... ........................ 59


Sculpture: Who Makes It? And How? .. ........... ... 66
Painting: Who Makes It? And How? .. ........... 72
Portraits: Who Are These People and Why Do They Look
the Way That They Do? ...... ................. ... 78
Landscapes and Seascapes: Now Which One Has the Water? 84
The Antiquities: Art Tells a Story .. ........... ... 89
The Wallingford Room: What Is A Museum? ........ 94
Summary: The Little People's Tour .. ........... 99
Analysis in Terms of the Guiding Questions of the Study 100


The Art Discovery Room: You, Too, Can Make a
Pre-Columbian Pot ...... .................. ... 114
The Slide Show: Jaguars and Monkeys and Snakes!
Oh, No! ......... ....................... ..129
The Pre-Columbian Gallery: Where Is That Bird Thing? 143
Analysis in Terms of the Guiding Questions of the Study 158

BETWEEN THE TWO PROGRAMS ..... ............... ... 164

Summaries of the Two Criticisms .... ............. ... 165
Similarities and Differences ..............175
Similarities and Differences: Further Reflections . 187

VI CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS .... ............. .. 198

Relationship of Findings to Previous Studies. . . . 202
Contribution of Findings to the Research Community . 208
Contribution of Findings to Practitioners ........ ... 214
Summary ..... ..................... .......... 223

REFERENCES .......... ......................... .. 224




C INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTORS ..... .............. .. 232

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........ ..................... 233

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Karen Kilgore

December, 1988

Chair: Dorene D. Ross
Cochair: Roy C. Craven, Jr.
Major Department: Instruction and Curriculum

The purpose of this study was to investigate the evaluation

practices of art museum educators, to identify the criteria used to

determine success, and to examine the relationship between those

criteria and the museum educators' beliefs about art museum education.

Information about two art museum education programs, designated as

successful by the curators of education at their respective

institutions, was collected, analyzed, and presented using a

qualitative research methodology, educational criticism. Observations

at each museum were conducted for 10 to 12 weeks and recorded through

the use of field notes and audiotapes. The curators of education

were interviewed, formally and informally, concerning their goals for

the programs, their evaluation procedures, and their beliefs

concerning the success of the programs. The directors of the museums

and the docents who implemented the programs were also interviewed.


The curators had established three goals for the children who

participated in these programs: to look, to learn, and to enjoy. The

curators evaluated the programs, informally, through observation.

Their criteria for success fell into two categories: child-centered

criteria, determining whether the children were enjoying and

actively involved in the museum experience, and object-centered

criteria, noting whether the activities and questioning strategies

directed the children's attention to the art on display. The

child-centered criteria reflected the curators' beliefs concerning

appropriate instructional strategies for children. The

object-centered criteria reflected the curators' beliefs concerning

the purposes of art museum education programs. The curators also

cited the popularity of the program with educators in their

communities as an indication of success.

The criteria for success identified in this study could be used

as a basis for developing formal evaluation strategies appropriate for

these and other art museum education programs. Additionally, the

study highlighted the complex interrelationship between the curators'

criteria for success, their educational beliefs, and their practices.

The results suggest the need for further research into the educational

beliefs and practices of art museum educators. The study also

illustrated the usefulness of qualitative methods of research and

evaluation in the art museum setting.


An art museum is first and foremost about art--those creations of

men and women that give expression to the meaning of human experience.

The staff of an art museum is committed to conserving works of art and

to making them physically and intellectually accessible to the

communities the staff serve. The dilemma facing the staff of most art

museums is that, for many in our society, comprehending the visual

arts is a difficult task. Whether a museum visitor is able to

secure meaning from an art work depends basically upon the

circumstances of the viewing and the capacities of the viewer. In a

museum, art is often seen out of context, separated from the culture

that generated its form and the rituals that gave it meaning. The art

on display may, at first, have no apparent connection with the daily

life of the contemporary viewer. Although the staff of an art museum

cannot readily confer the experience or competence necessary to

understanding art forms, the staff can stimulate and foster the

development of those abilities.

The staff of an art museum is composed of people with varying

interests and capabilities, each with a purpose to fulfill. Some are

required to collect and preserve art, others to classify and arrange

art, and some to exhibit and explain art. The primary responsibility

of the museum's educational staff is to develop means that enable the

viewer to secure meaning from an art form. It is the duty of art

museum educators to provide bridges between the viewer and works of

art. These bridges are built in numerous ways: gallery talks, guided

tours, classes, didactic displays, and outreach programs to schools as

well as community organizations. The museum educator's audience is

diverse, varying widely in age, experience, knowledge, and interests.

The education staff speaks in many voices seeking to be heard by those

who are willing to listen. Whether these messages are intelligible is

often a matter of debate.

Statement of the Problem

It is not easy to understand the dynamic and complex

relationships between the selection and arrangement of art works, the

educational efforts of the museum staff, and the museum visitor. The

broad diversity of visitor backgrounds complicates the matter further.

As art museum educators develop programs, they make a variety of

decisions related to the characteristics of their audience and the

nature of the art exhibition. The beliefs and values that guide such

decisions also form the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of

their practices. Unlike schools, art museum education programs are

not shaped by curricular mandates nor assessed in terms of learner

outcomes. However, the lack of formal evaluation procedures does not

necessarily imply a lack of evaluation in art museum practices. The

purpose of this study was to examine the evaluation efforts of art

museum educators, to identify the criteria used to determine success,

and to investigate the relationship between those criteria and the

educators' beliefs about art museum education.

Design of the Study

Qualitative methods of research were used to gather and analyze

information. The study consisted of intensive investigations of

educational programs at two art museums. The curators of education 1

at each institution were formally interviewed concerning a number of

topics: the curators' educational goals, the nature of their

audiences, their methods of implementing educational programs, and the

curators' efforts to evaluate their educational programs. These

interviews were intended to discern the perceptions, beliefs, and

values of the curators of education that shaped the educational

programs at their institutions. Detailed observations focused on

programs designated as successful by the curators of education.2

These observations were needed to explore in detail the relationship

1. In many art museums, the term curator of education refers to
the person who directs the museum's educational programs. The art
museum educators interviewed in this study were curators of education.
In sections of this dissertation, the term art museum educator and
curator of education are used interchangeably.

2. See Methodology section for a description of site and program

between the curators' criteria for success and the educational

programs at their institutions. Additional interviews, both formal

and informal, were conducted with the curators of education, directors

of the museums, other educational staff members, and participants in

the museum programs. Samples of educational materials were also

collected. The researcher secured permission from the University of

Florida Institutional Review Board to conduct the study.

Rationale for the Study

Nine out of 10 art museums offer educational programs. The staff

of art museums conduct classes and tours, design curriculum materials

for the schools, send instructors into classrooms, and offer outreach

programs. These programs are funded from the museums' operating

budgets, private donations, and state or federal dollars (Commission

on Museums for a New Century, 1984; Newsom & Silver, 1978).

Considering the time, energy, and resources that museum staff expend

on education, one might well ask what impact these educational efforts

have had on the communities they serve. What are art museum educators

trying to achieve through their programs? How do they know that they

are succeeding?

Despite the evident commitment to education made by the staff of

art museums, little is known about visitor learning in museums

(Commission on Museums for a New Century, 1984; Eisner & Dobbs, 1986a,

1986b; Goodman, 1985; Wolf, 1980). It would seem that museum

educators develop, implement, and modify educational programs without

benefit of a theoretical or intellectual foundation. What are the

beliefs, values, and perceptions that guide their judgments? Although

numerous researchers have proposed various strategies for evaluating

art museum education programs (Anderson, 1968; Cameron, 1967, 1968;

Chambers, 1984; Chapman, 1982; Chase, 1975; Hein, 1982; Loomis, 1973;

Mariner, 1972; Screven, 1969, 1974a, 1974b, 1984; Shettel, 1973;

Washburn, 1968, 1975, 1985; Wolf, 1980), few researchers have

investigated how art museum professionals actually evaluate their

efforts (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986a, 1986b; Hayes, 1968; Newsom & Silver,

1978). The purpose of this study was to investigate the evaluation

efforts of art museum educators.

Possible Uses of the Results

The extended observations needed to conduct a qualitative study

limited the number of museums and educational programs investigated.

Although the study provides insight into art museum education

practices, specific findings cannot be generalized to other art

museums. However, an intensive investigation of a limited group of

programs may be useful in a number of ways.

The study may have methodological significance to both

practitioners and researchers. Recently, a number of researchers have

advocated the use of qualitative methods to investigate museum

programs (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986a, 1986b; Hein, 1982; Wolf, 1980).

These researchers have stressed the unique learning environment of the

museum and have suggested that qualitative methods of inquiry may be

more fruitful than quantitative measures in the museum environment.

Although qualitative techniques have been used to evaluate and

investigate programs in science and natural history museums (Hein,

1982; Linn, 1983; Wolf, 1980), these methods have rarely been used in

art museums (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986b). Clearly, there is a need to

develop methods capable of assessing the multifaceted nature of the

art museum visit. This study exemplifies the use of qualitative

methodology to investigate art museum education programs.

For researchers, the study may suggest areas for further inquiry.

The findings of a qualitative study may result in the identification

of variables and generation of hypotheses for continued exploration.

This investigation is an addition to the small but growing body of

knowledge concerning art museum education programs.

The study may also be of benefit to art museum professionals.

Intensive analyses of even a limited number of successful programs may

assist the art museum's staff as they develop and implement

educational programs. Additionally, as museums become more dependent

upon public funds to finance their educational programs, they

undoubtedly will encounter the demand for accountability (Commission

on Museums for a New Century, 1984; Newsom, 1980). This study

illustrates an appropriate methodology for practitioners to evaluate

programs at their institutions.

Review of the Literature

What is known about the ways that art museum educators determine

the success of their programs? This question prompts the following

review of the literature on evaluation procedures in art museum

education. One of the first investigations of the evaluation efforts

of art museum educators was a study commissioned by the United States

Department of Education in 1965 (Hayes, 1968). During an 11-month

period, Hayes visited 57 art museums in 49 states; he interviewed

museum staff and observed educational programs. Hayes focused his

investigation on programs for elementary and secondary students. The

majority of these programs were designed to enable children from

various grade levels to visit museums once a year for guided tours

through the museums' permanent collections.

From the interviews of museum staff, Hayes discerned three major

goals for art museum education programs: (a) to give children a

favorable exposure to art museums, (b) to stimulate a heightened

awareness and appreciation of the visual arts, and (c) to relate the

visual arts to topics of interest in the classroom. According to

Hayes, the museum staff believed that attainment of these goals would

result in an enhanced appreciation of art and continued use of art

museums by the participants of the programs.

When asked about evaluation of their goals, Hayes noted a number

of themes in the educators' responses. First,. the educators cited the

numbers of children reached by the museum's educational efforts. The

majority of these programs were conducted in areas which had no formal

art education programs in the schools. The museum staff considered

their programs successful because the museum provided an exposure to

the arts for large numbers of children who did not have such an

opportunity in the normal course of their schooling. Second, the

museum educators pointed to higher attendance records and increased

museum memberships since the inception of formal education programs.

These figures were seen as indications of successful programs. Third,

many of the educators offered anecdotes to illustrate the beneficial

effects of their programs. For example, an art museum educator at the

Taft Museum in Cincinnati told a story about a little boy from an

impoverished area of the city who returned to the museum after a visit

the preceding week. The child brought his kitten to the museum to

show his pet "how pretty it is" (Hayes, 1968, p. 51). Other museum

educators also described incidents of children returning to the museum

with their parents following participation in museum programs. For

the majority of educators interviewed, anecdotes about participants in

the programs were offered as compelling evidence of the success of

their programs.

Hayes expressed the view that such incidents as the solitary

child returning with his pet did constitute a measure of success.

Hayes, however, thought it unlikely that a solitary visit to an art

museum in childhood would grow into an understanding of art and

continued use of art museums. Without support from the community and

collaboration with the schools, Hayes doubted that art museum

educators would fulfill their aim of developing lifelong appreciation

of art and museums in the children they served.

In 1973, the Council of Museums and Education in the Visual Arts

commissioned a study of art museum education practices (Newsom &

Silver, 1978). One hundred and five programs from 71 museums across

the country were investigated by 12 researchers. Their efforts were

led and organized by Newsom and Silver, who edited the final report,

The Art Museum as Educator. The study was conducted over a 3-year


Of the 71 museums investigated in the study, the majority of

their educational budgets were spent on programs for school-age

children. The purposes of these programs fell into three main

categories: (a) to help children feel comfortable in an art museum

and to value museums, (b) to introduce children to the visual arts and

engage them in experiences that would sharpen their perceptions, and

(c) to give children opportunities for studio activities to enhance

their understanding and enjoyment of art.

When asked about evaluation of their programs, many educators

responded with attendance figures and numbers of children reached

through their educational programs. However, Newsom and Silver

questioned whether such figures were truly indicators of successful

programs. For example, Newsom and Silver conducted a follow-up survey

of a program on contemporary art at the Walker Museum which had drawn

the institution's third largest crowd. Unfortunately, the

investigation of the program found that the majority of the visitors

expressed "bewilderment, anxiety, and even anger" (p. 81) following

the tour.

The educators also pointed to follow-up questionnaires sent to

teachers as efforts to evaluate their programs. Newsom and Silver,

however, argued that questionnaires from schoolteachers were

inadequate measures of the success of a program. Questionnaires from

schoolteachers were often returned haphazardly and were probably

unreliable due to the simple fact that teachers were generally

unfamiliar with art and museums and therefore ill equipped to

critically assess the museum's educational efforts. Additionally,

Newsom and Silver noted that no attempt was made by the education

staff to ascertain whether programs for children had resulted, over

time, in an enhanced appreciation of art and art museums.

Newsom and Silver observed that the majority of programs were

evaluated on an informal basis by the museum staff. In their

conclusion, Newsom and Silver noted the difficulties associated with

formally evaluating museum education programs and posed a number of

questions to art museum educators.

Is visual memory an art museum's equivalent of the
schools' measure of academic achievement? Or is it
enough to record the children's evident pleasure
in the museum and the activities offered to them
there? The programs described here, some modest and
some ambitious, suggest that evaluation based on what
goes into a program and how it is conducted may very
well be more helpful for art museum educators than a
hopeless effort to measure what comes out of it.
Learning in an art museum is not quantifiable. (p. 271)

Newsom and Silver concluded that attempts to measure the long-term

effects of art museum education practices were unrealistic and

recommended that evaluation efforts be concentrated on assessing the

quality of individual programs.

In 1984, the Getty Center for Education in the Visual Arts

commissioned an investigation of the state of art museum education in

the United States (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986b). The study, The Uncertain

Profession: Observations on the State of Museum Education in Twenty

American Art Museums, was conducted by Elliot Eisner and Stephen

Dobbs, art educators from outside the museum profession. Eisner and

Dobbs interviewed 38 museum directors and educators in 20 prestigious

art museums around the country, museums such as the Metropolitan

Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute

of Chicago. The study was conducted over a 6-month period.

Unlike the studies conducted by Hayes (1968) and Newsom and

Silver (1978), Eisner and Dobbs discerned no consensus among museum

professionals regarding the aims of art museum education. One wonders

if this might be due, in part, to the fact that Eisner and Dobbs did

not observe programs and therefore did not engage the educators in

extended discussions concerning the museums' educational programs.

In the area of evaluation, Eisner and Dobbs observed a lack of

formal evaluation procedures and attributed this lack to inadequate

training of the museum education staff. Eisner and Dobbs concluded

that museum educators tended to evaluate their programs on an informal

basis, that is, by "walking through the galleries" (p. 59). Eisner

and Dobbs also noted that when museum professionals spoke of

successful programs, they were often referring to shows with

impressive attendance figures.

Hayes (1968), Newsom and Silver (1978), and Eisner and Dobbs

(1986b) all observed a consistent lack of formal evaluation in art

museums. These studies spanned across two decades of art museum

education. It is interesting to note that during that same time

period, repeated calls for evaluation were being sounded in the museum

literature (Anderson, 1968; Cameron, 1967, 1968; Chambers, 1984;

Chapman, 1982; Chase, 1975; Loomis, 1973; Mariner, 1972; Screven,

1969, 1974a, 1974b, 1984; Shettel, 1973; Washburn, 1968, 1975, 1985).

Apparently these calls for evaluation went relatively unheeded by art

museum educators. The absence of formal evaluation procedures did not

go unnoticed or uncriticized.

In one of the first national conferences on museums and

education, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, Anderson (1968)

criticized the lack of evaluation in museum practices and suggested

that museum professionals were afraid of what they would find.

Anderson observed that most museum programs for children were limited

encounters and argued, "if of necessity, an educational program is

brief, it had better be good" (p. 117). Anderson encouraged museums

to establish clear objectives and measure the effectiveness of their

practices using the experimental approach whenever possible as well as

tests, questionnaires, unobtrusive measures, interviews, and


Other critics echoed Anderson's concerns. Cameron (1967, 1968)

and Screven (1969, 1974a) urged museum educators to establish

objectives and consider ways to achieve and measure them. Matthai

(1974) observed that museum educators relied primarily on inspiration

and tradition in developing educational programs but he cautioned that

such inspiration should be submitted to "careful scrutiny and

empirical verification" (p. 13). Washburn (1985) asserted that the

lack of evaluation had denied museum educators the status of

professionals. Washburn stated, "a characteristic of a true

profession is an abundance of critical self-examination. . I do

not see this as characteristic of the museum profession" (p. 22).

A number of leading spokespersons for art museums responded to

these criticisms. Newsom (1978) argued against the notion that art

museum programs could be compared to school programs and therefore

evaluated using the same procedures. According to Newsom,

critics are justified in crying that museums ought
to be more educationally accountable than they are.
But, if the price of that accountability is control
by the formal educational establishment, there are
many both inside and outside the museum who would
lock arms in the museum's defense. (p. 487)

Newsom further stated,

those of us who are defenders of the museum and its
educational possibilities beg you not to try to capture
it with credentials, lesson plans, and the too formal
trappings of productivity and educator's rule. Museums
are in many ways fragile institutions. Rigidified,
they will surely break. (p. 497)

Sherman Lee (1983), Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and one of

the most prominent spokesmen for art museums in the past two decades,

agreed with Newsom and argued,

as marginal institutions, art museums . are
understandably sensitive to reasonably objective study,
let alone criticism. . Positive thinking and the
maintenance of a solid, if mute, defensive front are
standard good form in education and the visual arts--
especially with regard to art museums. (p. 67)

These statements indicate an aversion to formal evaluation by art

museum professionals. Why were art museum professionals opposed to

formal evaluations of art museum education programs?

Part of the answer may be found in the results of several

experimental studies conducted in museums during the 1970s (Screven,

1974b; Shettel, 1973; Washburn, 1975). These investigations, using

preordinate evaluation techniques commonly found in the evaluation of

school programs, failed to show that significant learning gains

resulted from art museum visits. For example, Screven (1974b)

assessed visitor learning at the Milwaukee Public Museum and found

that visitors left the museum as uninformed as when they entered.

Other results were similarly dismaying. In fact, one researcher

concluded that the "coercive setting of most museum environments was

positively hostile to the learning experience" (Washburn, 1975, p.

215). Perhaps Anderson was right when she suggested that museum

educators resisted evaluation because they were afraid of what they

would find.

However, the intention of these studies was to measure cognitive

gains even though the stated goals of museum educators were primarily

concerned with the pleasures enjoyed by the visitors who participated

in museum programs (Hayes, 1968; Newsom & Silver, 1978). According to

Newsom and Silver,

the museum is less a place to learn about art than a
place in which to enjoy it. An art museum exists for
our pleasure. .. Certainly we can learn many things
along the way, about the past, about other people, about
aesthetic and philosophical ideas, and about ourselves.
In that sense, the museum is a kind of tuition-free open
university. But it is above all an institution, as one
museum director has put it, that does what it does "for
sheer beauty, not just for education." (p. 1)

When one considers the goals of museum education, the experimental

studies conducted in the 1970s were clearly inadequate. It may be

that the preordinate evaluation techniques were unable to capture the

qualities of the aesthetic experience that art museum educators

valued. It would seem that rather than accept evaluation techniques

that were incapable of assessing their goals, art museum educators

have shunned formal evaluation procedures.

What then is known about the ways that art museum educators

evaluate their programs? The studies conducted by Hayes (1968),

Newsom and Silver (1978), and Eisner and Dobbs (1986b) indicated that

art museum educators evaluated their programs on an informal basis.

Despite repeated calls for formal evaluation, art museum educators

have consistently resisted formal assessments. This resistance may be

due, in part, to the dismaying results from quantitative assessments

(Screven, 1974b; Shettel, 1973; Washburn, 1975) but it may also be due

to the inadequacy of such measures to assess their goals. Both Hayes

(1968) and Newsom and Silver (1978) reported that art museum educators

emphasized the aesthetic dimensions of their educational programs.

The quantitative studies conducted in the 1970s did not adequately

assess the intent of the art museum educators in designing and

implementing their programs. Consequently, art museum educators have

relied on informal assessment to evaluate their programs.

Eisner and Dobbs (1986b) stated that art museum educators

evaluated their programs by "walking through the galleries" but they

did not state what these educators were looking for during their

walks. What characteristics made a program successful in the eyes of

the art museum educator? Were the museum educators looking for

galleries crowded with people? Or did they want to find small groups

of children engaged in hands-on activities? What kinds of

interactions did educators want to see between the docents and the

tour groups? The answers to these questions are not found in the

literature. The studies conducted by Hayes (1968), Newsom and Silver

(1978), and Eisner and Dobbs (1986b) do not offer much insight into

the nature of the educators' informal evaluations. Little is known

about the criteria used by art museum educators to evaluate their

programs or the beliefs that guide their judgments.

Qualitative studies, involving extensive observation, are needed

to answer many of the questions concerning evaluation in art museum

programs. The purpose of this study was to answer some of these

questions through an intensive investigation of selected art museum


Clarification of the Study

This study was conducted to answer some questions concerning the

process of evaluation in art museum education programs. The following

questions guided the investigation:

1. What does it mean when an art museum educator designates an

educational program a success? That is, what is the educator trying

to achieve? How does the educator know that he or she is succeeding?

2. How do art museum educators' criteria for success reveal

their beliefs about art museum education?

3. Are there consistent patterns in art museum educators'

attempts to evaluate their programs? That is, what are the

similarities and differences in the criteria used by art museum

educators to evaluate their programs?

In considering these questions, the intention of the researcher was to

reveal and analyze the implicit and explicit criteria guiding the

judgments of art museum educators as they evaluated the effectiveness

of their practices.

In the following chapters the methodology, the findings, and

implications are discussed. Chapter II provides an explanation of the

methodology. In Chapters III and IV, educational programs from two

art museums are described, interpreted, and appraised. Chapter V

provides an explanation of the similarities and differences between

the two programs and the criteria used by the art museum educators to

determine the success of their respective programs. Conclusions and

implications are presented in Chapter VI.


Educational criticism, a qualitative research methodology, was

the method chosen to conduct this study. Educational criticism has

been effectively used by researchers to describe, interpret, and

appraise a variety of educational phenomena (Alexander, 1980; Barone,

1980, 1983; Eisner, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1985; Kelly, 1975; Kyle,

1982; McCutcheon, 1979; Munby, 1979; Ross, 1978, 1984; Willis, 1975,

1978). Through the process of educational criticism, the researcher

attempts to answer such questions as what is happening? What does it

mean to those involved? What is its value? (McCutcheon, 1979). To

answer these questions, the researcher must engage in sustained and

persistent observation in the natural setting of the studied


To conduct their investigations, educational critics have adapted

methods from social anthropology. These methods include observation,

interviews, and the collection of artifacts (Eisner, 1985; Kyle, 1982;

McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1978, 1984). During the course of the

investigation, the researcher continually searches for patterns and

attempts to discern the meaning of events. As information is

gathered, the critic reflects on the observations. These periods of

reflection guide subsequent observations and provide a focus for the

study (McCutcheon, 1979).

The role of the educational critic is modeled after that of the

art critic. The intent of the art critic is to render the ineffable

qualities of an art work into a form that enables the viewer to gain a

deeper understanding of the work. The art critic considers the aims

of the artist, assesses the quality of the art form, and places the

art work in a historical and social context. The intent of the

educational critic is to enhance understanding of educational

phenomena such as a particular classroom, a set of curriculum

materials, or an instructional technique. The educational critic

considers the aims of the educator, evaluates the educational quality

of the phenomenon, and assesses the significance of the phenomenon

with respect to relevant educational theory and research. As Eisner

(1975) explained, the aim of criticism

is to lift the veils that keep the eyes from seeing by
providing the bridge needed by others to experience the
qualities and relationships within some area of
activity. The critic must talk or write about
what he has encountered; he must . provide a
rendering of the qualities that constitute that work,
its significance and the quality of his experiences as
he interacts with it. (p. 1)

By integrating and modifying the approaches of the social

anthropologist and the aesthetic critic, the educational critic is

able to conduct in-depth investigations into the qualitative aspects

of educational life.

As the educational critic presents the results of an educational

criticism, the critic distinguishes between three interrelated

processes that guided the investigation. First, through description,

the critic artistically reconstructs events as they have transpired.

Second, through interpretation, the critic depicts patterns of

behavior that have given order to the educational setting and explains

the meaning of events to those involved. Third, the critic provides

an appraisal of the phenomenon. The critic addresses the question of

whether the educator has fulfilled his or her aims and assesses the

worth of those aims (Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1984). The

critic supports his argument with descriptive examples and continued

references to the information gathered.


Numerous researchers have noted the scarcity of research and

evaluation in the field of art museum education (Anderson, 1968;

Mariner, 1972; Matthai, 1974; Screven, 1969, 1974a, 1974b, 1984;

Washburn, 1968, 1975, 1985). Lacking a comprehensive research base

and working without a tradition of evaluation, art museum educators

have tended to appraise their programs on an informal basis (Eisner &

Dobbs, 1986b; Hayes, 1968; Newsom & Silver, 1978). Differentiating

between formal and informal practices of evaluation, Stake (1967)

noted that informal evaluation depends on "casual observation,

implicit goals, intuitive norms, and subjective judgment" (p. 523).

The purpose of this study was to investigate the criteria used by art

museum educators to determine the success of their educational

programs. Such an investigation required sustained, intensive inquiry

in the naturalistic setting to discern the implicit goals and

intuitive norms that framed the educators' observations and guided

their judgments. The investigation also required a methodology

capable of portraying the subtleties and complexities of the art

museum experience.

Educational criticism was chosen as the method of inquiry for

several reasons. First, an educational criticism focuses on events as

they unfold in their natural setting. The data collected are

descriptive and are intended to capture the characteristic qualities

of the phenomenon. The descriptive aspect of an educational criticism

is appropriate for conveying the unique qualities of the art museum.

Second, the educational critic is concerned with the meaning of

events and considers the different values and perspectives of

participants. The critic also relates events to the context from

which they emerge. The criteria for evaluating art museum programs

cannot be understood separate from the context that generated and

sustained the criteria. The interpretive aspect of an educational

criticism is an appropriate means for disclosing the meaning of

program success to art museum educators and discerning the beliefs

guiding their judgments.

Third, the educational critic provides an appraisal of the

educational phenomenon under study: an analysis and evaluation of the

aims of the educator. The focus of this investigation, the

determination of program success by art museum educators, entails an

analysis of the relationship between the observed programs and the

educators' criteria for success. An appraisal of those aims is

essential to a thorough understanding of the goals of the observed art

museum practices. The process of appraisal, an integral component of

an educational criticism, is an appropriate means to assess the aims

of art museum educators as they develop, implement, and evaluate their



In the following section, the procedures for implementing the

study are described. Discussions of site selection, gaining entry to

the sites, program selection, and research schedule are included.

Site Selection

The art museums included in the study were selected according to

the following criteria:

1. The museum was accredited by the American Association of


2. The museum had a permanent educational staff and a full-time

curator of education.

3. The museum offered ongoing educational programs.

Additionally, due to travel limitations on the part of the researcher,

the selected museums were within a 200 mile radius of the researcher's


Seven museums met the criteria and were initially included in the

study. The researcher visited each institution, observed a variety of

educational programs, and formally interviewed the curators of

education. During the interviews, the curators frequently referred to

one or two programs that they described as particularly successful and

therefore illustrated what the curators were trying to accomplish.

The focus for the study emerged from discussions of these successful

programs. Programs from two museums were chosen for the study.1

The two museums selected were the Wallingford Museum of Art and

the Harrison Museum of Art.2 The Wallingford Museum of Art is in a

large metropolitan area; its operations are funded through private

donations and a sizable endowment. The museum has a significant

permanent collection. The Wallingford Museum offers a variety of

educational programs: docent-led tours for school groups, ranging

from preschool through the 12th grade; an upper education outreach

program for college and university students; a concert series; an art

history lecture series; a series of luncheon-lectures designed for

office workers; and a variety of special events.

1. See program selection for the criteria used to choose the two

2. The names used in this dissertation are fictitious in order
to maintain the anonymity of the participants.

The Harrison Museum of Art is in a small urban area; its

operating budget is derived from a synthesis of public and private

funding. The museum has a small permanent collection of pre-Columbian

artifacts. The Harrison museum offers a variety of educational

programs: a cooperative program with the public schools of Harrison

County; a guest lecture series of visiting artists and art historians;

an art film series; guided tours for community and civic

organizations; and a variety of special events.

Gaining Entry to the Sites

Access was obtained by contacting the directors of each

institution under consideration. The directors were told that the

researcher wished to investigate the educational programs in various

art museums throughout the state. The directors identified the

curators of education for the researcher (giving the names, official

title, work schedules, and phone numbers of the curators to the

researcher) and notified the curators of the researcher's intent.

After obtaining permission from the directors, the researcher

contacted the curators of education and arranged an initial visit.

During this visit the researcher described the purpose of the study

and explained that the researcher would be compiling case studies of

selected programs. Each of the curators agreed to participate in the

study. The curators were told that they would receive written reports

of the case studies.

Program Selection

After interviewing the curators of education at each institution,

programs at two museums were selected for further investigation.

These programs were chosen from a group of programs designated as

successful by the curators of education. The two programs were

selected for several reasons:

1. The program focused on the original art object. The presence

of the original art object is a distinguishing characteristic of an

art museum; therefore, these programs served a function that programs

at other institutions were not capable of performing. Types of

programs offered by other institutions (such as studio classes) were

not chosen for study.

2. The program was implemented on a daily or weekly basis. The

researcher wished to engage in a sustained investigation over a

3-month period at each institution; therefore, programs implemented on

a monthly or sporadic schedule were not chosen.

3. The intended audiences for the program were children of

elementary school age. The researcher's areas of expertise and

experience are museum education programs for children. Because the

researcher's professional preparation provides a framework for

observations, interpretations, and appraisals, this age group was

deemed the most appropriate for study.

The program selected at Wallingford Museum of Art was

specifically designed for young children. The program, named the

Little People's Tour, consisted of docent-led tours through six

galleries in the museum. Children from local preschools and

elementary schools participated in the program; the tours were

scheduled at the initiative of the teachers who wished to have their

classes participate in the tours.

The program selected at the Harrison Museum of Art was a

cooperative program developed with the local school system. Each

fifth grade class in the county visited the museum; the program was

designed, in part, to reinforce the fifth grade social studies

curriculum. The focus of the tour was the museum's collection of

pre-Columbian artifacts. The school system funded the program and

provided assistance in organizing and scheduling the tours.

Ideally, the present study would have included an investigation

of several programs offered by each institution. Such a study would

have provided a more comprehensive view of the art museum educator as

he or she endeavored to evaluate a variety of programs with diverse

aims and different audiences. Additionally, it would have been

instructive to include a larger population of art museum educators so

that comparisons could have been made among programs and institutions.

However, such a study would have entailed time, resources, and staff

unavailable to the researcher. The number of programs included in the

study was limited by the time constraints on the researcher. Two

programs were chosen to give the researcher ample time to investigate

each program in-depth over a 6-month period.

Research Schedule

The researcher interviewed curators of education and observed art

museum education programs from the seven art museums during the months

of September and October, 1987. After these initial interviews,

programs from two museums were chosen for in-depth investigation.

From November, 1987, until April, 1988, the researcher observed the

selected programs. Each site was visited weekly; each visit consisted

of 4 to 6 hours of observations and interviews. The researcher

investigated one program for 10 to 12 weeks, then moved on to the next

site. The total amount of time spent in the field was approximately

160 hours.

The period from May to August, 1988, was devoted to ongoing data

analysis, return visits to the sites, and completion of the written


Methods of Data Collection

As stated previously, the primary methods of data collection in a

qualitative, naturalistic study are participant observation,

interviews, and the collection of artifacts (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982;

Guba & Lincoln, 1981; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lofland & Lofland, 1984).

The following section includes a description of these methods.

Participant Observation

Participant observation in the naturalistic setting is one of the

primary means by which the researcher gains an understanding of the

phenomenon under study (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982; Lincoln & Guba, 1985;

Lofland & Lofland, 1984). During observation, the role of the

naturalistic researcher may range from that of complete observer in

which the researcher's observations are concealed from the

participants to that of complete participant in which the observer

assumes an active role. The extent of participation may vary

throughout the course of the study and depends upon the intentions of

the researcher (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982; Spradley, 1980). For the

purposes of this study, the researcher's role was primarily that of


When using observational techniques, the naturalistic researcher

needs to consider the possible effects of observation on the

participants. To avoid altering the situation, the researcher should

minimize contact with the participants during the observation periods

(Eisner, 1985; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Ross, 1984). Although the

concerns about the reactions of participants to observation are

legitimate, Lincoln and Guba (1985) have noted, "social environments

are quite stable and an inquirer's presence may seldom, if ever,

produce the massive imbalances that researchers so carefully seek to

avoid" (pp. 193-194).

Because the museums included in this study were places of public

access, the researcher's observations seemed to have a minimal impact

on the implementation of the museum's educational programs.

Frequently, other visitors to the museum followed the groups of

children touring the museum. Additionally, docents-in-training, who

were observing and taking notes, frequently followed the tour groups.

A few of the museum staff assumed that the researcher was a new

docent, preparing to give tours, and offered words of encouragement to

the researcher. The participants on the tours rarely noticed the

researcher as she observed the groups.

The docents, who conducted the tours, were notified of the

researcher's purpose in following the tour groups. The docents were

told that the researcher was a graduate student observing art museum

education programs throughout the state. Before the beginning of a

tour, the researcher asked each docent for permission to observe; if a

docent did not wish to be observed, the researcher honored the

docent's request. The majority of docents, however, were accustomed

to additional observers on the tours and seemed comfortable with the

researcher's presence.

Typically, the researcher documents observations through the use

of field notes: written accounts of what the observer has seen,

heard, experienced, and thought during the observation period. The

researcher strives for accuracy and completeness as he or she

describes the environment, notes interactions between participants,

and records conversations as precisely as possible. The researcher

also records gestures and facial expressions, detailing as completely

as possible the affective aspects of the phenomenon (Bogdan & Biklen,

1982; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In addition to recording the studied

phenomenon, field notes also include a record of the researcher's

impressions, opinions, and feelings. These personal observations are

labeled as Observer Comments and are set apart from the recording of

events (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982). The intent of the researcher is not

to systematically categorize behaviors but rather to describe behavior

as completely as possible. The loss of standardization is compensated

for by the richness and depth of the information collected (Wolf,


During the museum visits, the researcher conducted extensive

observations of the museum tours and documented her observations in

field notes. During the observations of the tour groups, the

researcher noted characteristics of the programs such as the kinds of

connections that the docents made between the art works and the

children's personal experiences, the kinds of questions the docents

asked the children, the kinds of questions the children asked the

docents, aspects of art referred to by the children, and aspects of

art referred to by the docents. During the observation of the tour

groups, the researcher was concerned with noting patterns of

interaction between the participants on the tours and discerning the

meaning of events to the participants.

The researcher also noted the degree to which the tours conformed

to the curators' criteria for success. The researcher observed and

analyzed the tours with respect to the particular objectives set forth

by the curator of education. The researcher's observations were

guided, in part, by noting whether or not the program fulfilled the

stated goals of the curators at each museum. For example, the curator

at-the Harrison Museum of Art stated that her goal for the tour

through the Pre-Columbian Gallery was for the children to look closely

at the artifacts. The curator repeatedly expressed the significance

of focusing the children's attention on the artifacts. The researcher

observed this section of the tour and noted the extent to which the

curator fulfilled her goal. That is, the researcher observed the

children and assessed whether or not the children were attending to

the art on display.

In addition to observing the programs designated as successful,

the researcher also observed a variety of other programs at each

museum. As the curators discussed their goals and criteria for

success, the curators frequently referred to other programs at their

institutions. For example, the curator at the Wallingford Museum of

Art compared the museum's program for older children to the program

for younger children that was being observed by the researcher. The

curator expressed dissatisfaction with the tours for the older age

groups, stating that the tours for the older children were not as

successful as the tours for the younger children. By observing both

programs, the researcher was able to interpret the curator's

statements more effectively than if the researcher had observed only

the successful program. The observations of a variety of programs at

each institution were useful for distinguishing the distinctive

characteristics of the successful programs. Therefore, observations

of a variety of museum programs were conducted.

The researcher also observed docent training sessions. These

observations were conducted to further understand the curators' aims

for the programs and their beliefs concerning appropriate

instructional strategies. For example, during docent training at the

Harrison Museum of Art, the curator of education distributed a

checklist of behaviors used to evaluate the docents on the tours. As

the curator reviewed this checklist and discussed the rationale for

each behavior, she revealed many of her beliefs concerning effective

strategies for working with children.

The researcher also observed docent meetings. During the docent

meetings at both institutions, the docents discussed problems that

they were having on the tours. Frequently, the other docents and the

curator of education suggested ways of handling those problems. The

comments of the docents and curators during these meetings were

helpful in discerning the perceptions of the programs held by the

museum's educational staff and the docents who implemented the


Although naturalistic researchers often enter the field with a

set of guiding questions, they remain flexible and responsive to the

situation under observation. New questions may emerge as information

is gathered. A number of hypotheses may be developed, modified, and

discarded as the researcher searches for evidence and explores

alternative explanations for the meaning of events (McCutcheon, 1979;

Ross, 1984). For example, both of the observed programs offered

hands-on activities with art materials during the tours. A number of

questions emerged from the observations of these activities. What

were the curators' intentions in developing these activities? How did

these hands-on opportunities relate to the art on the display? How

were these activities perceived by the children? Were the activities

an entertaining diversion or did they enrich the children's

understanding of the art in the museum? Subsequent observations were

conducted to answer these questions.

Clearly, in a naturalistic study, the processes of observation

and analysis are interrelated. The researcher reflects upon his or

her observations; these reflections guide subsequent observations and

analysis. The cyclical processes of observation and analysis continue

until the study is completed. In the present study, observations were

concluded when the researcher had collected sufficient data to

identify significant patterns of interaction between the participants

in the programs, to interpret the meaning of events to participants,

and to establish the relationship between the curators' criteria for

success and the implementation of the programs.

Additional Recording Methods

Multiple methods of observations lend credibility to a

qualitative study (Guba, 1981; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Ross, 1978,

1984); therefore, the researcher considered the use of audiotapes,

photography, and videotapes to supplement the data recorded in the

field notes. However, the museum staff at these two museums

discouraged the use of photography in their galleries; therefore,

photography was not used. Due to the ambulatory nature of the museum

tour and the researcher's desire to remain as unobtrusive as possible,

videotaping was not used. The researcher, however, tape recorded a

sampling of museum tours.


Intensive interviewing is another tool of the naturalistic

investigator and is a primary means by which the investigator is able

to discover the participants' perceptions of a phenomenon (Bogdan &

Biklen, 1982; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lofland & Lofland, 1984).

Interviews may be formal or informal. An interview is characterized

as formal when the interviewer schedules the interview at a particular

time for a particular purpose (Spradley, 1980). The researcher has a

set of questions which provide a framework for the interview session.

An interview is characterized as informal if it occurs during the

period of observation. That is, an observed even may suggest a series

of questions that the researcher then addresses to the participants

(Spradley, 1980). The questions emerge as the situation unfolds and

have not been predetermined by the interviewer. During the course of

interviews, both formal and informal, informants may provide

information that leads to unanticipated questions. These interviews

take the form of "guided conversations" and flow in the directions of

concerns to those interviewed (Lofland & Lofland, 1984).

Formal interviews were conducted with the curators of education

at each museum. For example, the following types of questions were

used in the initial interview with each curator: What audiences are

you trying to reach? What are your strategies for reaching those

audiences? What is your message for those audiences? That is, what

are you trying to achieve? These questions were intended to disclose

the beliefs, values, and assumptions of the museum educators as they

developed educational programs at their institutions.3 During the

in-depth investigation of the observed programs, the researcher, once

again, conducted formal interviews with the curators of education

concerning the success of their programs. The curators were asked to

describe the program, to explain the rationale for the activities in

each section of the tour, and to describe the strengths and weaknesses

of the tours. The curators were also asked about their methods of

3. See Appendix A for a list of the questions asked in the
initial interview.

evaluation. 4 At the Wallingford Museum of Art, one of the docents

played a critical role in the development of the tour and the training

of docents. This docent was also formally interviewed concerning the

success of the program. These interviews were conducted approximately

four weeks after observations had begun so that the researcher was

familiar with the programs at the time of the interviews. Although

these formal interviews had an underlying structure to collect

information systematically from each curator, the interviews did not

follow a standardized format. These interviews were tape recorded and


The directors of the museum were also interviewed, They were

asked to describe the history of the program at their institution,

their role in developing and implementing the program, and their

perceptions concerning the success of the program.5 These interviews

were conducted to ascertain whether the directors shared the

curators' views that these programs were successful, the role that the

directors played in the development of these programs, and the

influence of the directors' beliefs on the practices of the curators

of education.

4. See Appendix B for a list of the questions asked in the
second interview.

5. See Appendix C for a list of the questions asked of the
directors of the museums.

The researcher also conducted informal interviews with the

curators and the docents who implemented the tours. For example,

before and after tours, the docents met with the curators of education

to discuss the scheduled groups and to tell anecdotes about their

experiences on the tours. During these informal meetings, questions

emerged as the researcher discussed particular incidents with

the participants. For example, a docent at the Harrison Museum of

Art had a different method of implementing a particular section of

the tour: The docent pretended to be a pre-Columbian Indian and

described the artifacts in the Pre-Columbian Gallery as her personal

belongings. Although the other docents admired her theatrical

techniques and believed that her method was effective with the

children, the other docents were reluctant to employ theatrical

techniques in their presentations. The researcher discussed the

docent's performance with the docent and explored the other docents'

reluctance to use theatrical techniques. This incident also prompted

a discussion (between the curator, a few of the docents, and the

researcher) concerning the amount of freedom given to the docents to

improvise their tours. As the researcher asked questions, these

discussions took the form of informal interviews of the docents and


To avoid disrupting the tours, the researcher refrained from

questioning the docents or participants while the tour was being

conducted. The docents, however, occasionally commented about a

particular activity or explained a certain procedure to the researcher

while the children were engaged in a hands-on activity or as the tour

group moved from one gallery to another. The docents' perceptions

were noted and discussed more fully with the docents at the conclusion

of the tours.

After the docents had departed from the museum, the researcher

frequently met with the curator of education and discussed particular

incidents on the tours, the varied performances of the docents, and

the responses of the children during the tours. Essentially, the

informal interviews with the curator were designed to enhance the

researcher's understanding of the curator's goals for the tours, the

methods chosen to achieve those goals, the reasons for the curator's

choices, and the curator's general perceptions of the tours.

Throughout the investigation, the naturalistic researcher needs

to assess the credibility and bias of the respondents, to recognize

the interactive nature of the interview, and to consider the context

of the interview (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The researcher may also ask

similar questions in a variety of formats, compare answers, and assess

the consistency of the informants' statements (Ross, 1978). During

this investigation, the researcher discussed the programs with the

curators on a variety of occasions in varied contexts, formal and

informal. Similar questions were repeated throughout the various

interviews. The information gathered in the interviews was compared

to observations and to the responses of other participants. Every

attempt was made to ascertain the credibility and bias of the

participants in the programs by determining the consistency of the

informants' statements and by detailed analyses and comparisons of

interview and observational data.

In a naturalistic study, analysis of interview data involves the

identification of categories of meaning. That is, the researcher

conducts a systematic search for order by "working with data,

organizing it, breaking it into managerial units, synthesizing it,

[and] searching for patterns" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 145). For

example, in this study, the interview data were organized and

reorganized according to the curators' statements concerning their

goals, their educational beliefs, their educational practices, and

their perceptions of the success of their programs.

Collection of Artifacts

In addition to observation and interviews, the researcher

collected samples of educational artifacts. Such materials included

descriptions of the programs disseminated to the public and schools,

pre-visit packets distributed to the schools, written materials used

in the training of docents, and internal documents used in the

development of the programs. These materials were examined to

supplement and enrich the information gathered from observations and


Typical Research Day

In the following section, a typical research day is described.

This description may clarify for the reader the day-to-day process of

collecting and analyzing data in the field.

The researcher arrived 45 minutes to an hour before the tours

began; she met briefly with the curator of education. They had a cup

of coffee while they discussed the day's schedule. The curator told

the researcher about the groups that were scheduled to come that day:

how many children were in a group, the grade level of the children,

and the characteristics of the school. The curator also told the

researcher about the docents who were leading tours that day; she

mentioned a particular docent that conducted an exceptionally good

tour. The researcher encouraged the curator to describe the docent's

style of giving tours: What made her tours distinctive? Later, the

researcher made a note about the curator's comments and made a special

effort to observe that particular docent during the morning's


As the curator and researcher talked, the docents arrived. The

researcher, the curator, and the docents chatted amicably as the

docents put away their purses and sweaters, put on their name tags,

and checked the daily schedule. The researcher accompanied the

docents as they left the curator's office to prepare for their tours.

The docents headed in different directions as they gathered materials

for the hands-on activities and arranged the materials in the various

galleries. The researcher walked with one of the docents and assisted

with the arrangement of materials. Their conversation ranged across a

number of topics: Some of the topics were personal, other topics were

about the tours. The researcher asked the docent why she gave tours.

The docent, a middle-aged woman, expressed the pleasure that she

derived from working with young children. She mentioned that there

were rarely behavior problems on the tours. "The children," she

stated, "are delightful." The researcher made a note of the docent's

statements and observed that the curator had also stated that there

were few discipline problems on the tours.

The researcher accompanied the docents to the entrance of the

museum. The docents exchanged personal information about friends and

families as they waited for the buses to arrive. The researcher spoke

individually to each docent and asked for permission to observe the

docent's tour during the morning. A new docent asked not to be

observed and the researcher agreed. As the buses arrived, the docents

quickly decided who would start in each of the different galleries.

The docents briefly reviewed the routing procedures as they went out

to greet the teachers and children who were gathering on the steps of

the museum. The docents and teachers divided the children into small

groups; the researcher noted the number of children in each group. As

the docents led the children into the museum, the researcher noticed

that the children were quiet, almost apprehensive. The researcher was

concerned with the degree of intimidation that the children might feel

during the museum visit.

The researcher followed one of the tour groups into the museum.

On a previous tour, the researcher had noticed that the docent

consistently established connections between the children's personal

experiences and the children's experiences in the museum. As the

researcher made notes, she highlighted the exchanges between the

docent and children that related to the children's personal

experiences. The researcher was exploring the relationship between

the curator's stated belief about the need to make the information on

the tour meaningful to the children by relating it to their personal

experiences. The researcher observed the docent for approximately 20

minutes; she then moved on to another gallery and observed another

docent. During the morning, the researcher observed each of the

docents who had agreed to be observed. The researcher consistently

noted the pattern of making connections between the children's

personal experiences and events on the tour.

After the tour groups departed, the researcher returned to the

museum and assisted the docents as they put away the supplies. One of

the docents had been unusually challenged by her tour group; the

children were from a combined first and second grade gifted class. As

the tour began, one of the children had asked her where to find the

Michelangelo. The docent spoke of the difficulty of changing her

presentation as she realized that the particular group was not what

she had expected. The researcher made a note to investigate the

situation further. Did the museum staff know that the gifted class

was coming? Would the museum staff have made preparations for a

special group? Would the docents have been notified?

A tour group of older children were entering the museum as the

docents for the younger children were leaving. The researcher

observed the group and noted the difference between the older group's

tour and the younger children's tours. The group was large: an

entire fourth grade class. The docent was pleasant; she lectured to

the children about art historical information concerning the art on

display. She did not try to make connections with the students'

personal experiences. The curator had explained to the researcher

previously that she wanted to change the format of the tours for the

older children. She cited discipline problems with the older groups.

On this tour, the researcher noted no overt discipline problems. The

children, however, were inattentive; they appeared bored.

After the last tour groups had left the museum, the researcher,

the curator, and one of the docents ate lunch at a nearby restaurant.

They talked about a variety of matters. One of the topics of

discussion concerned a docent who regularly went over the scheduled

time for her tours. The curator and docent were perplexed as to how

to break the docent of this habit. The curator expressed her

frustrations about the complaints that she had received--not from the

tour groups but from the docents who conducted the tour groups for the

older children. As the docents began the tours for the older

children, their tours were interrupted by the late docent with her

tour group. The researcher made a note to ask the curator how she

dealt with problems such as these. Did she have an established method

for dealing with individual docent problems?

Upon returning to the museum, the researcher observed a docent

training session. The curator lectured to the docents about a group

of Medieval paintings. She did not suggest or discuss methods of

presenting this information to the tour groups. The researcher noted

that art historical information and tour presentation techniques were

covered in separate sessions. The researcher developed a number of

questions to ask the curator about docent training.

After the training session, the curator and researcher returned

to the curator's office. They talked about the day and scheduled the

next observation. They concluded their conversation by discussing

their respective studies. The curator was writing an art historical

dissertation. They offered each other words of encouragement as the

researcher departed for the day.

The above description demonstrates the process of data

collection. A number of factors shaped the researcher's efforts: the

museum's daily schedules, the guiding questions of the study,

unanticipated research questions, the development and modification of

hypotheses, and the researcher's interpretation of events. In the

following section, a discussion of data presentation is provided.


Presentation of Data

According the McCutcheon (1979), educational criticism is both a

process and a product of inquiry. The product is the written report,

the presentation of the gathered information. As stated previously,

an educational criticism has three major aspects: description,

interpretation, and appraisal. The distinctions, however, are

artificial. In reality, these aspects are interwoven. For example,

as critics choose dimensions of the phenomenon to describe, they make

value judgments, they decide what is significant to an understanding

of the phenomenon. These decisions are based on the critics'

perceptions of the participants' experiences, that is, the critics'

interpretation of the situation. Nevertheless, the distinctions

between description, interpretation, and appraisal are useful for

clarifying the purposes of the criticism. An explanation of each of

these aspects is given in the following section.


The purpose of description is to portray vividly the essential

elements and characteristic qualities of the phenomenon under study.

Using the information gathered in the field notes, tapes, and other

materials, the critic artistically reconstructs the educational

phenomenon and enables the reader to participate vicariously in the

experiences which the critic has encountered. Barone (1983)

demonstrated the evocative nature of description as he set the stage

for his educational criticism of a high school art program in a small,

rural town in North Carolina.

The mountains looming above Swain County High School
provide a sense of locale, but move inside and where
are you? Many places you have been before. In the more-
or-less standard Modern American School Plant circa 1978.
The building's right-angled innards seem familiar to me:
the variously sized cubicles of space that stare blankly
at the newcomer, the prolonged rectangular corridors that
invite without a hint of destination. . But a
startling difference, so crucial to our story, becomes
vividly apparent as one's eyes move inevitably to a
boldly executed (and placed) 5' by 5' abstract
expressionist painting on the brick wall near the lobby
to the administrative offices. And in several other
spots--from the cloth wall hangings (stuffed tubes
intertwined playfully into serpentine knots) that dangle
above the stairwells, to a remarkable set of drawings
displayed near a side entrance (including a carefully
composed and brilliantly colored still life of red and
green apples)-there is art. (pp. 1-2)

The descriptive aspect of an educational criticism serves as the basis

for the critic's subsequent interpretation and appraisal. The

description must be comprehensive and contain sufficient information

for the reader to assess the adequacy and appropriateness of the

critic's interpretation and appraisal (Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979;

Ross, 1978, 1984).

Because of its aesthetic qualities and educational opportunities,

an art museum is unique environment. Capturing and conveying the

uniqueness of the museum environment is an important aspect of this

study. Additionally, the descriptions of the observed museum programs

serve as the foundation for the subsequent analyses of the curators'

criteria for success.


McCutcheon (1979) distinguished between two types of

interpretation: intrinsic and extrinsic. In intrinsic

interpretation, the critic identifies the underlying patterns which

give order to events. For example, the patterns in an art museum

program may be shaped by the educator's belief about the nature of the

aesthetic experience or they may take form from the curricular

objectives of participating schools. These patterns are essential to

an understanding of the educational program. As McCutcheon (1979) has

noted, "patterns constitute the threads holding together the fabric of

specific events" (p. 10). Through interpretation, the critic reveals

patterns of behaviors which give shape to the educational phenomenon.

Another aspect of intrinsic interpretation is a consideration of the

meaning of events to participants. The critic goes beyond a physical

description of an observed behavior and offers an interpretation of

the meaning of the behavior in the social context. McCutcheon (1979)

illustrated this process in an analysis of a familiar classroom


Children ooh and aah, each with one arm extended upward
to the ceiling, following a teacher's question. What
does this physical behavior mean? . Clearly, children
are raising hands to be called upon, but why are they
groaning to be called upon? Is it a form of competition
for rewards (approval by the teacher) operating here?
Are children trying to prove to their peers who is
smartest? Are they merely eager to share? Do they know
the teacher calls on children with their hands up and
dispenses grades on that basis? (p. 11)

From the information accumulated through observations, interviews, and

other evidence, the critic attempts to clarify the meaning of observed

events to the participants (Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross,

1978, 1984).

In extrinsic interpretation, the critic explores the relationship

between the particulars of the studied phenomenon and external

influences such as characteristics of the community, contemporary

events, and political forces. The critic also establishes a

connection between the observed educational practices and educational

theory. Through extrinsic interpretation, the critic provides a broad

social and theoretical framework for understanding the phenomenon

(Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1978, 1984). In extrinsic

interpretation, the critic explores alternative interpretations of

events and considers a variety of factors which play a role in

determining the shape of events.

An example may serve to illustrate the role of internal and

external interpretation in this study. For instance, during one of

the interviews, one curator cited a program's popularity as a measure

of its success. The curator believed that the schoolteachers

consistently chose the museum visit as a field trip for their students

because of the quality of the program. The curator, therefore,

interpreted the high attendance figures of the schoolchildren as an

indication that the program was educationally sound. The curator's

perception of the program's popularity exemplifies intrinsic

interpretation. The researcher, however, considered other

interpretations which may have accounted for the program's popularity.

The researcher explored a number of factors. Were there other field

trip opportunities available to children in this age group? What were

the field trip policies set by the school district? Did the same

teachers return year after year? The researcher's investigation of

the program's popularity illustrated the role of extrinsic

interpretation in this study.


The final aspect of an educational criticism is an evaluation of

the educational phenomenon. Through appraisal, the critic assesses

the educational significance and quality of the observed events.

McCutcheon (1979) and Ross (1978, 1984) have defined two types of

appraisal: intrinsic and extrinsic. These approaches grow out of and

complement the intrinsic and extrinsic approaches to interpretation.

In intrinsic appraisal, the critic considers the aims of the

educator and explores the extent to which those aims have been

realized. The criteria for evaluation are found within the context of

the phenomenon: the criteria stated by the educator. In this study,

the researcher investigated the criteria used by the art museum

educators to determine the success of these programs. What were the

characteristics which they believed typified a successful program?

The researcher explored the extent to which these characteristics were

evident in the observed programs. Was there a fit between what the

curator described as a successful program and what actually happened

on the tours? Through intrinsic appraisal, the researcher determined

the extent to which the curators actually fulfilled their stated aims

for the programs. The guiding questions of this investigation are

basically concerned with intrinsic appraisal of the programs.

Through extrinsic appraisal, the educational critic evaluates the

aims of the educator with respect to relevant educational theory and

research. The critic considers the potential benefits or deleterious

effects of the educational program. The intent of the appraisal,

however, is not simply the rendering of an educational verdict. As

Eisner (1985) explained, any discussion of educational practice is

concerned with value.

Education implies some personal and social good. But
to say this is to raise the knotty question of what kinds
of values to apply to phenomena that aspire to be
educational. On this matter there is a wide range of
different views. . Yet, even though different
individuals and groups hold different conceptions of
educational virtue . the need to make these judgments
is inevitable. (p. 235)

The educational critic approaches an educational phenomenon with

a conception of education virtue. The criteria for evaluation are

stated by the researcher. For example, the critic may evaluate

instructional efforts from a Piagetian or behavioral framework (Ross,

1978, 1984). During the critical analysis of the educational program,

the critic explicates beliefs and values which have guided the

appraisal. In this study, the researcher examined the curator's

criteria for success and analyzed the criteria with respect to current

educational theory and research. The researcher was concerned with

two questions: Were the curators' aims worthwhile? Were the programs

beneficial to the children who participated in the tours?

Validity, Generalizability, and Other Matters

A number of questions still remain concerning an educational

criticism. How does one evaluate the validity of a criticism? Are

the findings of a criticism generalizable to other settings? What are

the qualifications of the educational critic? The next section

provides answers to these questions.


One of the most frequently voiced concerns about qualitative

studies is the validity of the findings. In an analysis of

qualitative methods of inquiry, Lincoln and Guba (1985) have noted

that the issue of validity is centrally concerned with the basic issue

of credibility: Is the study believable? Educational critics have

discussed a number of factors to consider when assessing the

credibility of an educational criticism (Barone, 1980; Eisner, 1975,

1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1978, 1984).

First, the reader needs to consider the quantity and quality of

the information collected. The quantity of data should indicate

prolonged and persistent observation in the field. The quality of

data is assessed by noting the richness and diversity of information

presented. Additionally, data collected from one source may be

compared to data acquired from another source. For example, the

information from interviews may be compared to information gathered

during observations. A rich, abundant collection of data enables the

reader to evaluate personally the adequacy of the researcher's

conclusions. Therefore, the quantity and quality of data is an

important consideration in assessing the credibility of a criticism

(McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1978, 1984).

Second, the reader needs to consider the consistency and

coherence of a critic's arguments. Critics develop and support their

interpretations and appraisals through a process known as structural

corroboration (Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979). As critics logically

construct their arguments, they refer to supportive pieces of

evidence. Critics strengthen their cases by presenting additional

pieces of information that corroborate the existent evidence. The

critic also explores alternative hypotheses and investigates

contradictory evidence. In choosing one hypothesis over another, the

critic explains decisions and reveals his or her line of reasoning

(Ross, 1984). In evaluating a criticism, the reader must assess

whether the critic has established an argument that makes sense and is

supported by the evidence. The reader must ask, do the parts add up

to the whole?

Third, the reader needs to compare the criticism to other

knowledge of the phenomenon under study. This process may involve

direct observation of the phenomenon. However, readers may not have

access to the educational setting. Nevertheless, readers may compare

the criticism to their personal knowledge, both practical and

theoretical, of educational settings. Additionally, the reader may

evaluate the legitimacy of the relationship that the critic has

established between the observed phenomenon and relevant educational

theory and practice (Eisner, 1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1978,


In a discussion of art criticism, Dewey (1934) wrote, "the end of

criticism is the reeducation of perception of the work of art" (p.

324). Similarly, the aim of educational criticism is the reeducation

of the perception of an educational phenomenon. The final criteria

for assessing an educational criticism is the extent to which it

enables the reader to perceive more clearly the richness and diversity

of educational life.


Considering the limited scope of this study, generalizations to

other programs and other museums cannot be made. In that sense, the

study does not conform to the notion of generalizability common to

traditional quantitative inquiry. However, an intensive investigation

of even a limited number of programs may enhance understanding of

educational programs in art museums. The generalizability of this

study is discussed in terms of its usefulness to researchers and


This study may contribute to the field of art museum education in

several ways. For researchers in the area of art museum education,

the study may have methodological significance. The effectiveness of

art museum programs have proven notoriously difficult to assess

through traditional quantitative techniques (Newsom & Silver, 1978;

Rawlins, 1978; Washburn, 1968, 1975, 1985). Due to the difficulties

of formally assessing museum education programs, art museums have

tended to rely on what Eisner and Dobbs (1986b) termed the turnstile

method of evaluation: counting the numbers of people who walk through

the doors. Obviously, attendance records are an inadequate means of

determining the merit of these programs. There is clearly a need to

develop mechanisms for investigating and evaluating art museum

education programs which are sensitive to the unique qualities of the

art museum experience. Qualitative methods of inquiry have rarely

been used in the research and evaluation of art museum programs. This

study illustrates the process of qualitative research in the

naturalistic setting of the art museum.

Similar to other qualitative methods of inquiry, an educational

criticism may generate hypotheses and identify future areas of

research. This study may raise new questions and indicate new

directions of research in the area of art museum education.

The study may be of value to professionals currently working in

art museums by providing detailed descriptions and analyses of

successful programs. Such knowledge may assist art museum educators

in making practice more effective and intelligent. Other members of

the art museum staff may gain a more complete understanding of the

multiplicity of factors involved in the implementation and evaluation

of a successful program. By clarifying and articulating the beliefs

and values which underlie a selected group of art museum programs, the

study may stimulate reflection and dialogue among art museum

professionals concerning the goals of their educational programs.

Such discussions may be significant as museum professionals develop

policies for art museum education.

In recent decades, many art museums have become increasingly

dependent on subsidies from local, state, and federal departments of

education. These agencies provide operating funds as well as salaries

for instructional positions (Newsom & Silver, 1978). The allocation

of tax dollars often brings with it the demand for accountability

(Newsom, 1980). Art museum professionals may be called upon to assess

the merits of their programs, to discuss the quality of their

educational programs as well as the quantity of children who receive

the benefits of those programs. The findings from this study may

serve as a basis for developing more adequate means of describing,

interpreting, and appraising art museum programs.

Qualifications and Biases of the Researcher

An appreciation of educational practice, like an appreciation of

art, requires a familiarity with and a sensitivity to the phenomena

encountered. An educational critic must have the skills of an

educational connoisseur: the ability to perceive and appreciate the

subtleties and complexities of educational phenomena. As Eisner

(1985) explained, "connoisseurship is the art of appreciation,

criticism is the art of disclosure. . Connoisseurship provides the

fundamental core of realization that gives criticism its material"

(pp. 219-220).

Clearly, an educational criticism relies extensively on the

capabilities and judgments of the educational critic. The critic's

previous experience and knowledge of educational theory and practice

provide a framework for interpretation and appraisal. It is

important, therefore, to consider the qualifications and biases of the

critic in evaluating the content of an educational criticism.

Experience in education, knowledge of educational theory and practice,

and training in qualitative methods of research contribute to the

researcher's ability to conduct an educational criticism. Listed

below is a brief summary of the researcher's professional experience

and educational preparation:

1. The researcher has four years of experience in museums and

galleries. Her particular area of interest has been in educational


2. The researcher has earned a B.A. in art, including coursework

in art history and art criticism.

3. The researcher has earned an M.Ed. in early childhood

education and an Ed.S. in art education.

4. The researcher has completed coursework for a Ph.D. in

curriculum and instruction, including courses in art education and

curriculum development with an emphasis on art museum education


5. The researcher has completed two courses which provided a

foundation in the theory and practice of qualitative research methods.

The researcher has conducted two qualitative studies using

ethnographic techniques.

6. The researcher has read extensively concerning the

theoretical basis of educational criticism as well as a broad sampling

of educational criticisms.

The biases of the researcher are also an important consideration

for understanding and evaluating an educational criticism (Eisner,

1985; McCutcheon, 1979; Ross, 1984). In recognition of the impact of

researcher's beliefs and values on the study, a brief summary of the

researcher's philosophical orientation is offered in the following two


To develop programs which stimulate the enjoyment of, and

learning from, the museum's collections, art museum educators must

have an understanding of the interests and learning abilities of their

audience. In developing educational programs for children, a museum

educator's understanding of child development and experience with

children is as significant as the educator's knowledge of the museum's

functions and collections.

Children bring with them their own experiences and conceptions

of the world; their perceptions are shaped and limited by their

previous experiences and their stage of intellectual development.

Children learn best through interaction, that is, knowledge is

acquired through interaction between the child's current ways of

knowing and aspects of the external world which the child is able to

perceive and understand. The experiences of adults in museums are

fundamentally different than that of children; therefore, it is

important that museum educators attempt to understand the museum from

a child's perspective as they design children's programs.


Educational criticisms provide detailed descriptions and in-depth

analysis of a broad variety of educational phenomena. These accounts

contribute valuable insights into the nature of various educational

settings as educators attempt to develop, implement, and modify

educational programs. In this chapter, educational criticism has been

explained in general terms and with respect to this study. In the

following two chapters, educational criticisms of two art museum

education programs are presented. Each program is analyzed in terms

of the guiding questions of the study.


The children lined up outside the main doors of the museum. They

were young, "little people," as the Curator of Education called them,

children 5 or 6 years of age. They stood quietly as the "big people"

divided them into small groups. A docent gestured for one to hurry

up; a chaperone took another by the shoulders and put him in his

designated place. The children wore blue, easel-shaped name tags,

decorated along the edges with bright spots of paint. When the lines

were completed, the docents led the children into the museum, mother

ducks with their ducklings waddling hurriedly behind. One by one, the

lines traveled through the lobby and disappeared in opposite

directions, each headed for a different gallery.

What were children of this age group doing in a museum of fine

arts? As Martha,1 the Curator of Education, noted, "this age group

really hasn't been art museum territory." Despite the museum's

tradition of serving older children and adults, Martha fought to have

a specially-designed program for young children. She was assisted by

Jane, a dedicated docent, who had once been a teacher of young

1. All names in this dissertation have been fictionalized to
maintain the anonymity of the participants.

children. Their efforts, however, were met with considerable


A tour that was expressly designed for the young was
seen as non-academic and therefore an inappropriate use
of gallery time and space. And it was deeply entrenched
and hostile--the belief that there could be no learning,
no valid learning experience that could be offered in a
Fine Arts Museum for a kindergartener. (Martha)

As Jane explained,

most art museums have had that church-like atmosphere-
the feeling that museums should remain quiet--almost a
sacred palace. For years, the museum has opened its
doors to older students without ever thinking of younger
students. When we said, what about little people? They
said, little people! We can't do anything with little
people. They might touch the paintings. . I was
foolish enough to think that everyone was going to love
them . and it wasn't true. We had a lot of resistance.

Martha and Jane persevered in their efforts until the Little People's

Tour became the most popular educational program for school-age

children offered by the museum. During the past 5 years, the museum

opened early, two mornings a week, to accommodate these young

children. The Little People's Tours were begun at 9:30 a.m. to avoid

displacing the tours for older children and adults that began at 11:00

a.m. A specially trained group of volunteers served as docents for

the Little People's Tour. They were called the "pretend" docents to

distinguish them from the "real" docents, who gave the art historical

tours to the older age groups. The pretend versus real distinction

was considered a museum joke but was indicative of the difficulties

faced by the Little People's Tour to gain recognition as a legitimate

educational program.

Why was it important to Martha and Jane to bring young children

into the galleries? Why did they fight tradition? According to Jane,

teaching the young is an investment in the future. Jane was guided by

the belief that an early exposure to the arts is essential to

developing an appreciation of art.

If you are going to develop patrons of the arts, you've
got to do it early. We can't wait until they are in
the ninth grade to bring them. It's like waiting until
they are that old to teach them how to read or take
them to the library. Because when they've had no
exposure to any of this, it's like going to a foreign
land and not being able to speak the language.

Martha echoed Jane's beliefs.

By starting with the very young museum visitor, we are
getting a head start in the community for understanding
and appreciation of the arts. They have a time where
they can really enjoy the better things in life at age
5 or 6. I can't help but think that this is a really
beautiful thing to plant in young people's lives. ...
For each age level and background, there is a need to
bring knowledge and beauty and enjoyment.

Martha and Jane were motivated by the belief that a tour for young

children could be an important step toward developing an understanding

and appreciation of the visual arts.

According to Martha, "the Little People's Tour is phenomenally

successful. . It's a very sound and very strong tour." Jane

concurred with Martha's assessment, "it's a good program. We have

thought it out. What we have here is a wonderful program. . We

are teaching . expanding the children's experiences and having a

good time." What led Martha and Jane to the conclusion that the

Little People's Tour was a success? What were they trying to achieve

with the Little People's Tour? How did they know that they were

succeeding? How were their criteria for success shaped by their

beliefs about art museum education?

According to Martha and Jane, the tour was designed to provide

the children with an enjoyable experience during their visit to the

museum. As Jane explained,

the broadest concept that we want to convey is that a
museum is a place for people to come and have a pleasant
and enjoyable time. . The museum needs to be open
and available--sending the message that we are here for
you. . I want the children to feel better when they
leave then when they came. I want them to leave with a
warm feeling.

Martha and Jane also wanted the children to learn while they were in

the museum.

We want them to know that the museum is a place of
learning. . We truly want them to come and enjoy
themselves, learning while they go. .. It's easy
to make learning fun. You can teach and have people
not even realize that they're learning if you plan
carefully. (Jane)

This is a place where they can think, where they can
use their eyes, and they can understand more about the
world around them. (Martha)

Martha and Jane wanted the children to learn as well as to enjoy

themselves during their museum visit.

But what did Martha and Jane want the children to learn?

While they are here, we want them to expand their
vocabulary, teach them specifics such as the difference
between painting and sculpture. .. We are trying to

expand their horizons. Some of our children come and
have had a tremendous exposure to the arts. Others
come and have had absolutely none. So we are trying
to begin a foundation for those who haven't and expand
those who have had good experiences. (Martha)

Martha and Jane wanted the children to learn basic art concepts,

concepts which they believed would form a foundation for the

children's future learning in the arts.

Martha and Jane, however, realized that there were important

considerations to be met in implementing a tour for young children.

As Martha stated, "you have to know your audience. . The tour

needs to be child-centered." Martha and Jane developed the tour by

considering the characteristics of young children and the learning

opportunities that the museum had to offer. According to Jane,

I sat down and I thought, if I want to teach a young
child in the museum, what are the things that I want
to teach them? How would I want to do it? . I sat
down and I thought, I want them to understanding painting,
I want them to understand sculpture. . I would like
them to understand the portraits, seascapes, and
landscapes. So, I just said, these are the main areas.
How can I teach each of these in a very short frame of
time with what we have to offer? And so I developed an
activity per gallery.

Jane and Martha designed the tour around basic art concepts and

developed participatory activities to illustrate each concept. Martha

and Jane felt that such activities were essential to the success of

the tour.

One of the reasons that the tour works is that it has
activities. The concepts and vocabulary are introduced
and supported by activity: hands-on activities and

personal participation on the part of each individual
child. . If, at their age, their educational
experience in art ends only with listening then they
have not been allowed to develop adequately. They have
to go on to doing in order to really develop. And
that's one of the beauties of this tour--is that they
are allowed to do something at every stop. (Martha)

Martha and Jane's conception of a tour for young children did not

include art historical monologues. They both expressed the view that

young children should participate in their own learning; for Martha

and Jane, children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled.

Involving the children is the key. (Jane)
There are many ways to convey concepts to
children. The younger child needs these hands-on
activities. (Martha)
The young child has to touch. That's one of the
ways that he learns. (Jane)
They have to go on to doing to really develop.

Martha and Jane repeatedly stressed the need for active participation

by each child. Martha and Jane also believed that, whenever possible,

museum experiences should be related to the children's personal


The Little People's Tour was designed to involve the children, to

establish a pattern of dialogue between docent and children as well as

interaction between art objects or art materials and children. The

docents, who implemented the program, were trained to work with young

children. They were required to participate in a training session

devoted to learning strategies for young children.

Martha and Jane wanted the children who participated in the

Little People's Tour to enjoy their visit. They also wanted these

children to learn a few basic ideas about the visual arts. Martha and

Jane wanted the children to look, to think, and to respond to the art

around them. To achieve their goals of pleasure and enlightenment,

Martha and Jane believed that each child should be an active

participant on the tour.

One might wonder, however, how 4-, 5-, and 6- year olds

actively participated on a tour through a museum displaying over 2,000

original and valuable art objects ranging from the 5th century B.C. to

the 20th century. How did 5-year-olds cope with room after room of

paintings in gilt frames, all hung above their eye level, and polished

marble statues, begging to be touched but expressly forbidden to the

touch? How were Martha and Jane able to make art real and meaningful

in the lives of these young children? Did the children leave the

museum with a warm feeling? Did they look, think, and respond to the

art around them?

Sculpture: Who Makes It? And How?

A small group of children sit cross-legged in front of a large

marble statue of a Madonna and Child. The group is small, perhaps 10

or 12 children; they each have a clear view of the Madonna and the

docent. The statue is life-sized and is placed against a blue brocade

backdrop. The docent asks the children about the qualities of the

sculpture, "is this stone smooth or rough?" The children unanimously

reply, "smooth!" The docent continues, "is this stone soft like

fabric?" The children answer loudly, "no!" The docent continues her

questioning, "how did the sculptor make it look like fabric?" The

children do not answer.

The docent retrieves a box from behind the statue and begins

passing around fragments of marble. Some of the pieces of stone are

polished and smooth; others are unpolished and rough. The docent

instructs the children to feel the texture of the stones, to close

their eyes and run their fingers over the surface of the stones.

While the children pass around the stones, the docent continues

talking. "The man who made this," she gestures to the Madonna and

Child," was a sculptor. Can you say that?" The children answer in

unison, "sculptor."

In an animated voice, the docent tells the children to put on

their imagination (the docent places an imaginary cap on her head) and

"let's all be sculptors." The docent picks up a hammer from the box

and asks the children what she is holding. She is answered by a

chorus of "hammer!" The docent then picks up a chisel to show the

children. A child tells the docent that the chisel is "a nail." The

docent nods and explains, "the chisel is like a nail, a large, flat

nail." She sits on the floor in the middle of the group, reaches into

the box and lifts out a large piece of marble. The docent chips away

at the rock, tapping the chisel with her hammer. She explains that

this is how the sculptor made his sculpture out of stone. Once again,

she gestures to the Madonna and Child, exclaiming, "this sculpture was

made from a big piece of stone, bigger than I am."

The docent keeps tapping the stone, gently, and says, "the

sculptor had to work very slowly and very carefully. He had to make a

nose and eyes and fingers and toes. What would happen if he hit it

too hard?" One of the children yells out, "a flat nose." The other

children laugh, as does the docent, who responds, "he would have to

start all over." The docent explains that each of them will get a

chance to be a sculptor but they must remember to hammer gently.

The docent calls the children by name. Each one takes a turn

with the hammer. Some are hesitant, awkward in their movements.

Others are bolder and hammer with authority. As they work, the docent

praises their efforts, "you're a great sculptor, Lisa! How talented!

Be a sculptor, Mike!" The other children watch as each of the

children takes a turn. The docent chatters with the children as they

work and watch, asking them what kinds of sculptures they are making.

The children have a thousand answers, "a boat," "an airplane," "a

person," "a snake," "a jet," "a bunny."

As the children finish, the docent asks them to think about how

difficult it was for the sculptor to make the Madonna and Child. The

docent points to delicate details of the sculpture: the wrinkles on

the baby's knees, the folds in the Madonna's robe, the curls on the

baby's head. She asks the children if they think that it would take a

long time to finish the sculpture and make all those fine details.

The children nod their heads.

The docent finishes her presentation by asking the children if

they have ever made something out of play-doh. She tells them that

they were being sculptors and didn't even know it. She explains that

sculptures can be made out of clay or rock or metal. As they leave

the gallery, the docent tells them, "you'll be seeing some sculpture

in the museum today and every time you see a piece of sculpture, I

want you to call out, 'sculpture!"'

Sculpture: Analysis in Terms of Martha and Jane's Goals

What were Martha and Jane trying to achieve when they designed

this section of the tour? According to Jane,

children tend to think that everything comes from
Pic 'n' Save. They have no conception of how a
Madonna and Child comes to be. They don't even
understand that it was once a block of marble. I
think the activity conveys the idea of sculpture to
a child who really needs to feel the rock and the
hammer and to see it in all its different states. ...
We have to show them the beginning of things.

Martha and Jane wanted the children to understand how this sculpture

was created. That is, they wanted the children to understand that a

person made the sculpture, working in stone, using hammers and


During the activity, the docent said very little about the other

art objects in the room: the paintings on the wall or the marble

reliefs on either side of the Madonna and Child. Nor did the docent

comment on the period, style, or country of these objects. The docent

concentrated her efforts on one art work, definitions of the terms
"sculpture" and "sculptor," and the hands-on activities. The

discussion of the sculpture centered on the texture of the stone and

the technical aspects of creating the piece. The docent maintained a

focus: Who makes sculpture? From what? And how?

Martha and Jane considered the learning characteristics of young

children as they designed the sculpting activity.

The young child has to touch. That's one of the ways
that he learns. But we can't let 3,000 children a year
touch the Madonna and Child. But they can touch the
stones presented in a variety of ways. Some of the
stones are highly polished so that we can say, in order
to make it feel the way that the Madonna feels, you have
to polish it like this. (Jane)

Through the hands-on activity, the children were given a feel for the

material of the sculpture, the idea that people make sculpture, and a

rudimentary understanding of how a stone sculpture is made. The

children actively participated as they responded to the docent's

questions and engaged in the activity. The children appeared

satisfied and stimulated throughout the activity. After completing

this section of the tour, children could be seen confidently pointing

to sculptures in the museum and calling out, "sculpture."

Sculpture: Further Reflections

Researchers have indicated that children of this age have a

mechanistic conception of the arts (Gardner & Winner, 1982; Parsons,

1976). They tend to think that art works are produced in simplistic,

mechanical ways, that is, produced in factories along with their

McDonald's happy meal boxes. Children of this age often do not

realize that art is made by people and that it is in any way different

from other objects in their environment. Nor do children of this age

have any concept of the skill required to produce such objects. These

perceptions may be due, in part, to the developmental stage of young

children. It is important, however, that the children encounter

contradictions to those beliefs in order to develop their

understanding of artistic forms. Through the sculpting activity the

children were introduced to the idea that art is made by people using

techniques requiring skill and coordination.

Martha and Jane designed this section of the tour based on the

premise that young children learn by doing. Developmental

psychologists have emphasized the significant role that tactile

experiences and participatory activities play in young children's

learning (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). In recognition of these findings,

the Office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution issued a

set of guidelines for designing young children's programs which

stressed the need for active participation (Matthai & Deaver, 1976).

The sculpting activity, designed by Martha and Jane, was

developmentally appropriate for their young audience. The children

participated in a similar activity in another section of the tour.

The focus, however, was on painting not sculpture.

Painting: What Makes It? And How?

The docent walks around the gallery, a room filled with Medieval

paintings. She explains that every painting in the room tells a story

about Mother Mary and Baby Jesus. She also tells the children that

there is something the same about every painting: They all have the

same colors. The docent walks up to a painting, points to an area,

and asks the children, "what colors do you see?" The children answer

with refrains of "red! yellow! blue!" The docent repeats the

procedure with five or six more paintings. She asks the children why

they think the artists used red, gold, and blue in all of these

paintings. The children offer a variety of replies. "Make it nice

and pretty." "Make it colorful." "They're Christmas colors." The

docent tells them that each of them is right but there is another

reason, too. She explains that Mary is a queen, the Mother of God,

and that red, gold, and blue are royal colors, "special colors that

tell you that she is a special person."

The docent asks the children to use their imaginations and

pretend that they are painters living a long, long time ago. "And you

wake up one morning and you want to paint, but," the docent sighs and

looks distressed, "you have no paint. So you decide to make some

paint. You go to the garden, looking for different colors, looking

for a red and a blue and a green. And what do you find?" The

children raise their hands and talk about flowers and berries and

grass and leaves. The docent continues, "that's right. Now if I want

red, what kind of berries am I looking for? Maybe a --" The docent

pauses, waiting for the children to finish her sentence. The children

call out, "strawberries," "cherries," "radishes," "raspberries." "And

if I want blue?" the docent asks. "Blueberries," the children reply.

"And if I want purple?" she asks. "Grapes," they reply.

The docent walks to a cart placed nearby and picks up a plastic

container of red tempera paint. She says, "this morning I went to the

garden and picked some strawberries and crushed them up." The docent

picks up two eggs and says, "and then I went to the henhouse and I

gathered some eggs." The docent cracks an egg, separates the yolk

from the white, and drops the yolk into a clear plastic cup. Some of

the children rise up on their knees, straining to see. The docent

spoons some of the red powder into the cup and quickly mixes it with

the egg yolk. She holds up the cup and asks the children, "what do I

have now?" The children shout out, "paint!"

The docent picks up an unpainted canvas sitting on an easel,

passes it around for the children to feel, and asks them if it feels

like cloth. The docent then passes around a painted canvas and

encourages the children to feel the dry, hard surface of the paint.

The children are well behaved; they sit quietly, reaching out with

their hands to stroke the surface of the canvas. She explains that

the paint sticks to the canvas and dries hard.

The docent spoons up a glob of paint and indicates that the paint

is sticky because the egg is sticky. The docent asks the children if

they've ever had to clean up a dropped egg or washed a plate with

dried egg yolk on it. The chaperones begin laughing and the docent

says to them, "you know what I'm talking about."

The docent replaces the canvas on the easel and calls on two

children to come and paint. She explains that each child will get a

chance. As one pair finishes, she calls upon another pair. To the

children that are finished, she gives a clue to a painting in the room

and asks them to look for it. She whispers in their ears, "look for a

bird and go stand by that painting" or "look for a painting with a

crown." While the children paint, she praises them, "such talent,

Roy! Look at you guys! Marvelous, marvelous!"

In a few minutes, the last pair of children have finished

painting and pairs of children stand beside paintings around the room.

The pairs are excited pointing to their clue, and showing the bird or

crown to one of the chaperones. The docent walks from pair to pair

asking them about their clue and praising them for their successful


Painting: Analysis in Terms of Martha and Jane's Goals

The children, once again, were active participants during this

section of the tour. Through questioning strategies and hands-on

activities, the docent elicited the children's participation. The

children's attention was maintained; their eyes, hands, and minds were

engaged in solving a variety of problems presented by the docent.

As in the sculpture presentation, a major focus of this section

of the tour was on the hands-on activity, a demonstration of how these

paintings were made. Martha and Jane wanted the children to

understand how the paintings were produced and who created them.

We introduce concepts of materials and techniques and
how things are accomplished. We do the egg yolk
binder for the egg tempera and they get to paint with
that. So they see how paint can be made very simply
out of resources that the artist had available. (Martha)

The children were given an opportunity to work with the painter's

materials. They touched the canvas and painted on its surface with

egg tempera. Once again, the docent said little about the time

period, style, or country in which the paintings were produced. The

children's attention was focused on the sensory and technical aspects

of the paintings. 2

The docent, however, also involved the children in a discussion

of the expressive qualities of the paintings. She noted that all of

the paintings were of Mary and Child and that the colors were

specially chosen by the artist for their symbolic significance. The

2. Broudy (1971) distinguished four dimensions which merit
consideration in a discussion of a work of art: sensory (elements
such as color, line, shape, and space), formal (its design or
composition), technical (the media and skill used to create the
piece), and expressive (its imagery or meaning). The terms-sensory,
formal, technical, and expressive--are used as Broudy defined them.

children looked closely at the paintings as they verified that the

paintings were of a mother and child and that the colors were

consistently red, yellow, and blue. In the final activity, as the

children searched for their "clues," they were also stimulated to note

the various imagery depicted-in the paintings. That is, the children

had to read the imagery to successfully find their clue. The children

were stimulated to look and to think.

According to Martha, one aspect of art museum education is the

development of "visual literacy," the ability to read artistic forms.

Martha noted, however, that such a task is often difficult with

children who are constantly exposed to technologically produced


We are combating that "media mentality" that one finds
when a child walks in the door. That's something that
every museum, every traditional museum, is faced with.
[We have to contend with] the short attention span
that TV has imposed on them as being good, as being the
only kind of communicative style they know. . Their
perceptions are based on quick, unstudied images.

Martha argued that contemporary children have developed "extremely

sophisticated, non-reflective, visual literacy." That is, they are

exposed to technically sophisticated and emotionally intense images:

a shuttle exploding in space, Rambo destroying legions of armed

police, and fantastic worlds created through the use of special

effects. Children are bombarded constantly with these images and have

little time to reflect on their meaning or visual form. According to

Martha, traditional fine arts have a difficult time competing with the

high speed stimulation of electronic imagery. TV and movies are

active; paintings are passive. Therefore, the paintings do not

readily engage the attention of young children. Martha and Jane

designed the questioning and looking activities in this section of the

tour to engage the children's attention, and to stimulate them to look

and to think about artistic forms. Although the paintings were

passive, the children were active.

Painting: Further Reflections

As indicated previously, children of this age have little

conception of how art is made or who makes it (Gardner & Winner,

1982). The painting activity vividly demonstrated the process of how

these paintings were created. Such activities are appropriate not

only for young children but for other audiences as well. Lee (1983)

argued that the museum must educate the public about the techniques of

art, that "the doing . or observing of the doing is fundamental to

understanding and evaluating works of art" (p. 58). This activity (as

well as the sculpture activity) served just such a purpose.

The children, however, learned more than the technical aspects of

creating these paintings; they were also encouraged to look at the

paintings and to interpret artistic forms. The activities were

designed to develop the children's visual literacy. Such an aim is

central to the art museum educator's task. As Martha pointed out,

however, such an aim is difficult to achieve. Others have agreed with

Martha's assessment of the difficulties that art museum educators face

as they attempt to focus the viewer's attention on the work (Eisner &

Dobbs, 1986b; Goodman, 1985; Lee, 1983, 1984). As Goodman (1985)


where do you start and when do you stop looking at
a picture? There is no going forward or backward,
no beginning and no end. You can take it all in,
superficially, at a glance, and the average looking
time per viewer per picture viewed must be something
under five seconds. Dynamic as a work may be in
expression and design, it is physically inert, while
the human being is alive and restless. . Somehow
the immutable work and the volatile viewer have to be
reconciled. Attention must be held long enough for a
work to work. (p. 58)

Martha and Jane's activities were an initial step in focusing the

children's attention on the art works, of reconciling the immutable

painting with the volatile child. Martha and Jane achieved their

desire of stimulating the children to look by involving the children

in simple analyses of the paintings and providing opportunities for

active participation. Martha and Jane's focus on looking continued in

other sections of the tour.

Portraits: Who Are Those People and Why Do They Look the Way
That They Do?

In another gallery, a group of children sit in a room full of

paintings. The room is dark, wall-papered in green brocade. The

paintings are set in rich gold frames; they are portraits. The docent

stands in front of a large painting; it is of an elegantly dressed

noblewoman. A little boy, in awe of the paintings in the room,

wonders if these "are the rich people who own this place."

The docent begins, "these are all paintings of real people. They

are called portraits. Are you a real person?" The children nod their

heads. The docent bends down to the children and squeezes their

shoulders. "You certainly feel real!" The docent strolls around the

room, gesturing toward the paintings. She asks, "don't all these

people look important? Here is Philip, King of Spain, wearing his

sword at his side to defend his lady. Look at all those rings on his

fingers!" The docent continues walking and talking. "This man looks

like George Washington, but he's not. He's a Marquis. Look at the

gold threads in his jacket and his lace cuffs!" The docent finishes

her stroll around the-room, having talked about four or five of the

paintings. Some of the children have been watching the docent as she

talks; others have lost interest, preferring to chat with their

neighbor or play with their friend's plaited hair. The docent comes

back to the painting directly in front of the children. She indicates

the painting with a wave of her hand and asks, "who do you think this


One of the children answers, "a queen." The docent smiles and

says, "she certainly is fancy, isn't she? Do you think that she is

rich or poor?" The children are now paying attention, responding to

the docent's questions. A number of children answer, "rich." "How do

you know that the lady is rich?" the docent asks. The children

quickly come up with evidence of the lady's wealth. "Her clothes."

"Couldn't buy that necklace for a dollar!" "The rings on her


The docent asks the children if they think the woman dressed up

to have her portrait painted or did she dress elegantly every day.

One of the children answers her quickly with confidence, "she dressed

like that every day." The docent smiles, then asks, "when you had

your school picture taken, did you get all dressed up?" Some of the

children say "yes," some say "no," others don't respond. The docent

continues, "your school picture is a portrait and I bet when you had

it taken you wore your best clothes and combed your hair and put on

all your richest jewels!" The children laugh.

The docent picks up a basket and begins pulling out sparking

pieces of jewelry-gold chains and multicolored beads and diamond

bracelets. She hands them to the children, who chatter excitedly.

"Oooh, see what I got!" "Look!" "I want a gold chain!" "You got the

prettiest." The docent pulls out golden sashes and silver ribbons

which she drapes over the shoulders of the children, exclaiming, "you

are the Marquis! You are a Duchess! And you are a Princess!" The

children giggle, obviously enjoying the pretense.

The docent takes a gold frame from the basket and tells the

children that they are going to play a game. She places the frame in

front of a little girl's face, then asks the other children, "this is

a portrait of --?" She pauses and waits for the children to answer.

The little girl giggles and the other children laugh. The docent

laughs and says, "look at that smiling face! This is a portrait of

Michelle!" The docent walks among the children, framing each child's

face and saying, "this is a portrait of -?" The children quickly

catch on and begin shouting out the names of the framed person. One

of the children sticks out his tongue as he is framed. The docent

mocks disapproval as she says, "and this is a portrait of Jeremy's

tongue." The children laugh. The docent then frames one of the

chaperones and once again the children laugh.

As the docent replaces the frame, she pulls out a sheaf of

papers. The sheets are printed with a large drawing of an elaborate

frame; the interior of the frame is empty. As the docent hands a

sheet and a crayon to each child, she explains that she wants them to

draw a self-portrait, a picture of themselves. She asks the children

to touch their heads, to feel their ears and their eyes. She tells

them to look at the clothes that they are wearing. Do they have on

stripes? Or red shoes? Or bows in their hair? The children look at

each other while they do this, smiling, acting silly, but enjoying

themselves. One of the children comments, "it's going to be hard."

He fingers his jacket and looks at his nametag. The children sprawl

around the gallery floor; many of them lie on their bellies, crayons

in hand. One of the children is upset. His shirt is blue; his crayon

is green. The children work quietly, occasionally talking to each

other. "I need a red." "I got it. I got a red." "I can't draw."

The docent encourages the children, "you can draw! You are an artist!


Portraits: Analysis in Terms of Martha and Jane's Goals

The activities in this section of the tour were designed to make

the concept of portrait meaningful to young children. According to


we use a portrait frame to frame their faces and say this
is a portrait so that the concept becomes clearer
through an activity. It's useless to get up there and
say, "this portrait of Andrew Jackson was painted in --."
It's useless to say anything about the portrait of Andrew
Jackson if your audience is unaware of what a portrait is.
And, of course, they think Andrew Jackson is Michael Jackson's

Martha and Jane believed that the concept of a portrait would be more

meaningful to the children if related to their own experiences. The

docent developed the concept of portrait through a number of

strategies. She made connections between the portraits on the wall

and the children's lives. The portraits are of real people; the

children are real people. She related their yearly school pictures to

the painted portraits. In the framing game, children viewed living

portraits of their classmates. And, finally, the children made

portraits of themselves. The use of props, the frame and the jewels,

also made the activities more entertaining for those involved.

Martha and Jane also wanted the children to look and to think

about the portraits. The analysis of the noblewoman's portrait was

intended to develop the children's looking skills. As the docent

asked the children questions about the noblewoman, the children

consistently scanned the painting for more information. They noted

details such as the lace around the noblewoman's collar and the rings

on her fingers. The children looked, thought, and responded as they

discussed the noblewoman's portrait.

Portraits: Further Reflections

The activities in the portrait gallery vividly illustrated Martha

and Jane's belief that the children's experiences in the museum should

be related to the children's personal experiences. The comments about

school pictures, the framing game, and the "dress-up" activity all

related the children's own experiences to the paintings hanging on the

wall. Additionally, the children were encouraged to participate, to

respond, and to think about what they were seeing. By relating the

concept of portrait to the children's personal experiences and

eliciting their involvement in activities which illustrated the

concept, the children appeared to grasp the meaning of portrait.

The activities, however, introduced more than the concept of

portraits. The discussion of the noblewoman's portrait illustrated

the idea that looking at art is a way of learning about lifestyles of

other times and places. The analysis of the noblewoman's attire

informed the children that she was probably a rich and important

person. Reading the imagery in the noblewoman's portrait was a

stimulating activity for the children, one which encouraged the

children to observe and reflect upon their observations. In another

gallery, the children were, once again, encouraged to look, to think,

and to respond.

Landscapes and Seascapes: Now Which One Has the Water?

A docent walks around a room filled with 19th century landscapes.

She is explaining the difference between a seascape (it has the ocean

in it) and a landscape (it has land in it). The docent stops at each

painting, the children following behind her, and asks the children

questions. "Does this painting have water in it? Is the water an

ocean or a lake or a river? Is the painting a landscape or a

seascape?" Sometimes the children respond correctly; other times they

appear either confused or hesitant to answer.

After they finish looking at each painting in the gallery, the

docent stops beside one painting and explains that it is her favorite

painting in the room. The painting is a 19th century Romantic

landscape, a sunset glowing with the grandeur of nature. The docent

tells the children that she likes the painting and names one aspect of

the painting that she admires: the golden glow of the clouds. She

asks the children to find "something special" in the painting. The

children offer a variety of responses: "the clouds," "the lady under

a tree," "they look happy," "the flowers," "the mountains," "the bird

in the water." As the children respond, the docent often comments on

their choices. She talks about the warm glow of the clouds and asks

the children about the kinds of colors that the artist has chosen to

create that effect. She mentions the brushstrokes of color in the

trees and notes that their shapes make you think of leaves.

Throughout the discussion, the children are eager to share their
"something special" and are disappointed when someone else names it.

Their disappointment, however, provokes them to keep looking. After

they finish their discussion, the docent tells them "to find one

painting in the gallery that you really like and go stand by it." The

children disperse, in pairs and in trios, to various paintings around

the room. When the children are settled by a painting, the docent

walks around the room and asks each child to share "something special"

with the others about the painting. Some of the children are shy but

others talk about various aspects of the paintings such as "the cows

in the field" or "a boat on the river." After she has talked with

each group, the docent instructs the children to line up. As they

form their lines and prepare to exit, the children continue to comment

on the paintings. As they leave the gallery, they walk and talk,

looking at the paintings and occasionally bumping into the children in

front of them. "Look at that." "See that wagon. See it?"

Landscapes and Seascapes: Analysis in Terms of Martha
and Jane's Goals

This section of the tour was designed to develop an understanding

of the terms, landscape and seascape. During the first few minutes of

this section, the children were given definitions of each term. They

were then asked to decide if a particular painting fit the category of

landscape or seascape. It is unclear to what extent the children

actually learned the difference between a landscape and a seascape.

Some children had no difficulty with the concepts; others seemed


After introducing the children to landscapes and seascapes, the

docent focused the children's attention on one particular painting.

She asked the children to find "something special." This activity

prompted the children to look and look again as they named their
"something special." According to Martha, "one of the objectives is

to have the children observe details. You don't observe details

necessarily without learning to observe detail." The more the

children looked, the more they found.

In the final activity, the children chose their "something

special" from other paintings in the room. They were excited as they

searched the gallery for a particular painting with a specific

attribute that they admired. As the children left the gallery, they

were still chattering about the paintings and pointing to specific

details. Each of these activities successfully focused the children's

attention on the paintings, encouraging them to look and to keep on

looking. Similar to other activities on the tour, these activities

were designed to stimulate the children to look, to think, and to

respond to the art around them.

Landscapes and Seascapes: Further Reflections

These activities were probably less important for the vocabulary

and concepts that they introduced (landscape, seascape) than for the

looking that they stimulated. Through a variety of questioning

strategies, the docent focused the children's attention on the art

work. The docent and the children discussed sensory, formal, and

expressive characteristics of the work. Through her comments and

questions, the docent introduced simply stylistic concepts; that is,

how the artist used various techniques to achieve certain effects.

Her discussion of the brushstrokes, the choice of colors, and the mood

of the pieces were simple lessons on concepts of style. The children

were acquiring the rudiments of a visual vocabulary, learning to read

the imagery in paintings and to understand some of the ways that

artists render that imagery.

Additionally, the children were given a small measure of freedom

in the gallery. They were given a problem to solve: to find an art

work that particularly appealed to them. Such an activity is

reminiscent of Taylor's (1971) instructions to art museum educators.

What do you do with children when you go to a museum
this way? What you don't do is troop the children

through the galleries . and have them sit in front
of paintings while you point things out to them...
You don't tell them, you ask them. Furthermore, you
give them some time to look at things on their own.
Set the problem ahead of time, then let people go look
for themselves, and finally come back and discuss what
they have found. . If a child looks at a Giotto and
doesn't see it as an example of the early fourteenth
century, but says, "I sort of like her," give him an "A".
It's only a hardened art historian who could look at a
Boucher Venus and say "Where's you eye level here?"
(pp. 23-24)

By setting a problem for the children, then giving them a chance to

explore on their own, the docent gave the children a measure of

autonomy usually reserved for adults in a museum. The docent,

however, had prepared the children to use the time productively and

purposefully. They were to find and show her "something special" in a

painting that they liked, just as she had shown them "something

special" in a painting that she liked.

According to Jensen (1982), children often feel powerless in

museums. They are in an unfamiliar environment; their behaviors are

restricted. Jensen and others (Chase, 1975; Matthai & Deaver, 1976;

Williams, 1974) have argued that children need to be given the

opportunity to explore the museum environment. The search for
"something special" afforded the children that opportunity. The

children were truly active participants in their museum experience as

they sought and found a painting suited to their taste. In another

section of the tour, however, the children sat and listened.

The Antiquities: Art Tells a Story

The children sit in front of a glass case filled with

antiquities: an Egyptian mask, a large Greek amphora, Etruscan

earrings. The docent instructs the children to follow her with their

eyes as she walks over to the glass case. She begins, "these things

are very old. Everything in here is old, older than you grandmother

and your grandfather." The docent suddenly stops talking. She puts

her hands on her hips, looks puzzled, then asks, "what is this?" She

looks perplexed and turns toward the children. She is standing beside

a Greek amphora, a tall container made of reddish clay and decorated

with a black line drawing. A few of the children respond: "a vase,"
"something to put water in." The docent picks up a plastic milk

container sitting behind the case. She asks the children if maybe the

vase is a jug to carry milk in, like the milk jugs that we have today.

The children nod, murmuring their assent.

The docent explains that a long time ago, people didn't have

plastic so they made their jugs out of clay. The docent replaces the

milk jug and picks up a piece of red clay; it is the same color as the

amphora. The docent quickly shapes the clay into a small pinch pot.

While she works, she tells the children that they also made their cups

out of clay and when they were done, they decorated them with

drawings. The docent puts the clay down and motions toward the

amphora, saying, "this is an amphora and it was used to carry wine.

The picture on it tells a story about a man named Dionysius who made

wine." She indicates a figure surrounded by grapevines. "Would you

like to hear a story about this man?" The children nod their heads; a

few say yes. They are quiet, intently watching the docent. The

docent draws her hands together, bends toward the children, opens her

eyes wide, and begins her story.
"Dionysius lived a long, long time ago. He was a teacher and he

taught people how to make wine. Dionysius worked very hard making

wine. One day he took a walk on the beach and he was very, very

tired. So he laid down on the sand and fell asleep." The docent

sighs and lays her head upon her folded hands. After a few seconds,

she quickly raises her head, walks a few steps, and turns toward the

children. "While he was sleeping, a pirate ship came sailing upon the

ocean." The docent makes wave-like motions with her hands. "The

captain looked through his looking glass [the docent holds an

imaginary looking glass to her eye and scans the horizon] and he saw

Dionysius lying on the beach. Dionysius was very rich and wore

beautiful clothes, so the Captain thought that Dionysius must be a

Prince. Well, the Captain decided to kidnap Dionysius and hold him

for ransom. The Captain sailed his boat back to shore and took

Dionysius back to the ship. When Dionysius woke up, he stretched and

yawned [the docent stretches and yawns] and asked [the docent speaks

in a sweet voice], 'where am I?" The docent's voice becomes rough

and deep. "The bad captain said, 'you are my prisoner. I am going to

keep you!' Well, what do you think Dionysius said?"

The children have been leaning forward, captivated by the

docent's performance. A little boy answers, "let me go!" Another

says, "I bet he was scared." He nods his head and rolls his eyes.

The docent continues. "That's right. Dionysius said, 'oh, please let

me go."' The docent furrows her brow and speaks in a pleading voice.

"But the bad Captain laughed, 'ha! ha! ha!"' The docent laughs in a

rich booming voice. "Dionysius pleaded with the Captain, 'please,

please, please, Captain, sir. Please let me go."' The docent clasps

her hands, speaking in a pleading voice. The docent raises her

eyebrows, looks at the children and asks, "do you know what happened

next?" The children appear entranced; a few shake their heads.

"All of a sudden a storm came up. The clouds gathered and the

rains came down and the winds roared. And Dionysius grew and grew and

grew." The docent puffs up her cheeks, sticks out her belly, and

holds her arms out wide. "Soon he was bigger than the ship. And the

ship was covered with grapevines and filled up with wine. The bad

Captain and pirates were scared and jumped into the ocean and started

to drown." The docent begins thrashing her arms. "Glub. Glub.

Glub. Well, Dionysius worked his magic and he turned all the pirates

into-- [The docent pulls out a puppet, squeaking and jumping in the

air]. Dionysius turned them all into dolphins, the most human of all