Satellite: Experiments

Satellite students study Northern Baroque works in the Collection galleries.
Satellite students study Northern Baroque works in the Collection galleries.

Satellite students have been tagging, talking, and sketching in the past two weeks at the Museum. Traveling through Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and France (virtually, of course), we’ve looked at figural paintings, portraits, and still lifes, and have even done some time-traveling to compare artwork hundreds of years apart.

As I mentioned in my first post about Satellite, the blog idea just wasn’t working. We are now Flickr-based. There, we tag works of art with the big ideas from our discussions. But I still wanted to make sure our tagging and posting had a greater purpose. We added these photos to the Smarthistory Flickr pool, a website with fantastic resources and projects, one of which is to collect photos of works of art “in situ” and with people in them to show their scale.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying new gallery teaching techniques. First, I wanted to focus on the composition of the Northern Baroque still life by Pieter Claesz that hangs in Gallery 5. Students did a quick sketch of the painting in their notebooks, and then drew a line on their sketch to indicate how their eye traveled through the work. On the class iPad, each student drew his/her line of looking on a reproduction of the painting. All the paths were different, but each drew us to the main objects in the still life—the wine glass, the bread, the table linens, the crab—symbols that we decided may speak to religious undertones in the piece. We compared it with a contemporary work by Beth Lipman: Laid Table, a massive sculpture of a still life made completely out of glass, and watched Chipstone’s ArtBabble interview with Ms. Lipman to hear about her influences from Dutch still life paintings. You can hear more interviews as well as Milwaukeeans’ takes on her work at RadioMilwaukee’s blog.

I had noticed during that activity that I could barely pull these visual arts students away from their sketching, so the next class, after a bit of discussion and word games (we compared Fragonard’s Rococo painting to the Neo-Decorative objects in European Design Since 1985), we got out our gallery stools and hunkered in for a good long sketch session in front of five Impressionist works in Gallery 11. You could have heard a pin drop, so intent were we on our work! Find the (unfinished) results of our sketching time on our Flickr page.

Satellite students' sketches of the Museum's Caillebotte.
Satellite students’ sketches of the Museum’s Caillebotte.

Afterwards, we talked about how difficult it was to translate the nuanced paint strokes, thick application, and melting colors of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings into a pencil sketch.

I’m inspired by how much the students loved sketching in the galleries and plan to incorporate more of that into class time. Until my next post, keep checking our Flickr for more work by Satellite students!

Chelsea Emelie Kelly was the Museum’s Manager of Digital Learning. In addition to working on educational technology initiatives like the Kohl’s Art Generation Lab and this blog, she oversaw and taught teen programs.

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