As I am getting into the meat of my Art Education B.F.A. major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I am finding more and more just how well my internship at the Milwaukee Art Museum compliments and contrasts with what I am learning academically.
In fall 2011, I started to intern for Chelsea Kelly, now Manager of Digital Learning at the Milwaukee Art Museum. An unpaid internship was a lot to add when I was already balancing two majors, a minor, sixteen credits, and another job; but I soon found I enjoyed and valued my time at the Art Museum more than my other commitments. I quickly forgot about not being paid–I wanted to be here, plain and simple.
Last fall, I assisted with the Satellite Art History program, and for the first time ever, I experienced a real “teaching moment.” I gained a lot from teaching a session, and it also helped me to prepare for and better articulate my extended lesson for the summer High School Internships program. This blog post focuses on my teaching experience this summer at the Museum.The Discussion
My lesson for the high school interns delved into deeper layers of meaning, history, and discussion, which made for an amazing experience as a growing art educator. I focused my lesson around the artist Kehinde Wiley and his colossal painting at the Museum, St. Dionysus (2006). Keeping one of Chelsea’s most useful pieces of advice in mind, I researched and prepared 500%, even though I knew I’d only end up sharing 5-10% of the information.
I had students start with a careful study, sitting and observing the artwork for a few minutes. I then moved into a brief art historical description about the artist. We did a quick “whip-around,” where we each quickly shared something we noticed about the work. Students then changed seats, and we did another whip-around with their new perspectives.
I opened up the floor to discussion, starting by sharing our thoughts. The conversation eventually morphed into the questions I had previously written down for us to cover.
I tried extremely hard to not ask the students any questions, as this is part of Chelsea’s teaching philosophy. This strategy actually contradicts the Art Education curriculum at UWM, where we are taught to use “Essential Questions” to get discussion going with students. It seems the main disconnect between Museum Education and the K-12 style of Art Education is in lesson structure and requirements, some of which are state and/or nationally-mandated requirements. However, I feel I am getting the best of both worlds in having access to these different strategies–that is, open discussions based on comments to push students to think further, versus discussions powered from critical thinking questions–and plan to use this edge to help formulate my own teaching philosophies as an art educator.
I also practiced careful listening by paraphrasing, repeating, and adding onto what students were saying, so that the entire group could stay engaged in the discussion. This is a crucial strength I have consciously gained with the help of Chelsea: the power to paraphrase. It does wonders in keeping your students on the same page, as well as you as the teacher! I also sprinkled in artist quotes to rekindle the conversation if it was dying out (another one of Chelsea’s handy tactics).
Discussion lasted for a whopping twenty minutes! I was so proud and amazed of all of the teens’ abilities to stick with me and reason through Wiley’s complex work.The Art Practice
After the discussion, I introduced my Wiley-inspired studio activity to the teens. They searched the Renaissance galleries, chose a painting to look at closely, and took a picture of it. The next week, students altered their chosen image through collage, in a personal, social, or humorous way, whether it be through costume, background, figure, by adding text or drawing, etc. I worked alone with the students, helping them with the activity on the final day of our program, while Chelsea interviewed the students on their perspectives for the future of museums (you can view the students’ videos here).
Without Chelsea by my side, this was my first solo teaching moment. Using magazines/collage allowed students who didn’t consider themselves artists to be imaginative in other ways, and be just as successful as the art-makers of the group by re-contextualizing and appropriating. Many creative images were made, but next time I’d like to push the concept behind their art further. This is my responsibility as the teacher: to create a lesson that will ask the students to go to that critical level of artmaking.
As we are now almost halfway into this fall’s art history Satellite program, I look forward to continuing to grow and learn more and more from the students and their unique perspectives. I can’t thank Chelsea enough for letting me intern with her. When I describe my position at the Milwaukee Art Museum to others, it’s hard for me to even call her my supervisor. She has been so much more to me: a mentor for life, a role model for how I’d someday like to teach, and a friend with whom I can laugh about everything from cats to scatterbrained moments during program sessions. I look forward to continuing my time here at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and to gaining new teaching perspectives and skills to help me in my future as an up-and-coming art educator.
–Jessica Janzer, Milwaukee Art Museum Teen Programs Intern