On Friday, May 17th, the Race & Pedagogy Working Group coordinated an event with the Smart Museum of Art. This event focused on how to use art and imagery as a pedagogical tool to discuss race and culture. A discussion was led by Dr. Issa Lampe – Deputy Director for Academic and Curatorial Affairs at the Smart Museum, Berit Ness – Assistant Curator for Academic Initiatives, and Leslie Wilson – Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts.
Dr. Lampe went over basic conversational prompts for engaging with works of visual art. Her strategy starts off by taking three minutes of silence to examine a work of art before discussing it. This, she emphasized, is important for developing an interpretive and critical conversation about the art. After three minutes of observations, students can be asked to build a “visual inventory” of the work. This includes asking students about what visually strikes them in the work, whether it be form, subject(s), colors, framing, etc.
As students build a visual inventory, the instructor can then begin to further engage students by asking them to extrapolate themes and meaning beyond the artwork that can be supported by visual evidence that is within in artwork. It’s important that the instructor provokes thought and participation by asking students their stances on previously mentioned interpretations and mirroring students’ points by repeating and rephrasing what students say in order to validate their input and help clarify their ideas. As the discussion progresses, the instructor can reveal further background information about the artist and the artwork to shift conversation and/or connect to topics discussed in lecture.
Following this discussion, attendees talked amongst one another about how to apply these techniques in their courses and resources to help instructors utilize art as a tool to teach race. The event helped to establish some collaborations between instructors that we hope to see implemented in the classroom really soon!