EDUCATIONAL CRITICISMS OF WO ART MUSEUM EDUCATION PROGRAMS:
WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS?
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
0-E F LIBRARIES
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
III THE LITTLE PEOPLE'S TOUR: WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS? . 60
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
IV THE FIFTH GRADE TOUR PROGRAM: WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS? 107
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
V WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
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
A FIRST INTERVIEW WITH THE CURATORS OF EDUCATION ..... 230
B SECOND INTERVIEW WITH THE CURATORS OF EDUCATION ..... 231
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
EDUCATIONAL CRITICISMS OF TWO ART MUSEUM EDUCATION PROGRAMS:
WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS?
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.
BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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
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
4. See Appendix B for a list of the questions asked in the
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,
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"
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
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 LITTLE PEOPLE'S TOUR: WHAT CONSTITUTES SUCCESS?
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
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
Martha and Jane also wanted the children to learn while they were in
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
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
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
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
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?"
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