The Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke
MICHEL FOREST, DIRECTOR, MUSÉE DES BEAUX-ARTSDE SHERBROOKE
From April to June 1995, the Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke introduced and tested a new public program: "Art Appreciation Workouts". Consisting of ten sessions of approximately one and half hours each, this project offered an array of educational games and other activities about art appreciation. There was also "homework" to do between each session which provided occasions to make connections between the appreciation of art works and the appreciation of other things found in everyday life. Some twenty people took part in this demonstration project, including two groups of adult literacy learners from the Centre d'éducation populaire in Sherbrooke and one from our regular public. At the end of the "adventure", all participants indicated that it was a rewarding experience and that their expectations were fully satisfied. One participant even said they had been exceeded. Given the success, we intend to include these "workouts" in the services offered by the museum this fall.
The program is consistent with the museum's overall approach to art and learning. In practice, our educational efforts centre on creating games that encourage visitors to interact directly with the works on display. Drawing on the educational potential of various exhibitions, the "art games", as we call them, highlight a given concept, problem or question in art appreciation, such as thematic understanding or analysing elements, and invite visitors to find the answers themselves. Since the visitors are responsible for interpreting the works, they quickly move from passive "viewers" or "listeners" to active "explorers", "detectives", "discoverers" and "communicators". Our success with this approach has indicated that it is truly possible to develop the talents of visitors and has encouraged us to push our research further.
The model for the workouts was a program called "The Young Art Lover's ABC", set up in 1993 when we opened our permanent exhibition room. Consisting of twelve "art games", the ABC program lets a person or group visit and enjoy the same exhibition more than once, each time approaching it from a different angle. Eight of these sessions were also held in our permanent exhibition gallery, while the other two were visits to temporary exhibitions. In the first session everyone introduced themself and we explained the workshop program. We then played the "visitor's choice" game, in which participants selected a work that most appealed to them.
This was followed by a session on the relationship between words and images, a week on the techniques and temperaments of artists, another on the importance of one's impressions and reactions to works of art, another on formal composition and how it affects our view of a work, and finally, a session in which we explored some of the mysterious powers of light and colour. During the ninth session we held a "final" exam. Participants put everything they learned into practice by mounting their own exhibition. They were shown ten works they had never seen be fore and were asked to select five to display that reflected a theme of their choice. The tenth and last session was a time for taking stock and participants were asked to play the "visitor's choice" game again. This gave them an opportunity to compare the visitors they had been when they started to the visitors they had become, and to draw their own conclusions.
Judging by the comments received during this pilot project, it seems clear that art appreciation can be a very enjoyable, even exciting "game". Many in the group admitted they were totally surprised by the enjoyment and interest that came with developing their talents as museum-goers. Many were initially intimidated by the project and unsure that they would be able to meet the challenge, but they came to look forward to the weekly sessions. Even the most timid and inarticulate members became active, enthusiastic participants. The workshops have shown that hidden inside each of us is a "connoisseur" who is only waiting for an opportunity to emerge.
For the literacy learners in particular, the workouts were very valuable. Some learners and instructors suggested that the workload was a little heavy, but they were also unanimous in saying that the program should continue. As one instructor commented:
Very instructive, very rich, very interesting! I feel that these workshops develop some real skills in addition to offering a form of personal development.
What better recognition for our efforts could we want? From both a museological and an educational standpoint, these comments indicate that the program was a success. They also acknowledge simply yet eloquently the full potential of art works and the educational role of art museums.
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