Appreciating Museums Through Making

Appreciating Museums Through Making

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I’m on vacation in NYC this week, and one of the things I’m psyched to do is to go lose myself in The Met for a day.  Museums are mostly a record of things people have made over the years, and they’re also places that a lot of schools take students on field trips to learn about history, art, etc.

That got me thinking: Could that standard museum field trip for students in whatever grade be a key link in the rationale for including maker activities in the classroom?  Speaking for myself, the museum exhibits I really love tend to be the ones where I can spend time puzzling out how long-ago artists or craftspeople went about making the objects on display.  It gives me a window into understanding an object’s significance, and if the object was created using methods I’ve tried myself, it lets me imagine myself as the creator, questioning what that person’s life was like.

More and more museums are encouraging these kinds of connections.  When I lived in Michigan, I used to volunteer in the Grand Rapids Art Museum‘s studio.  We did all kinds of art projects, mostly with children, and generally connected to the museum’s current exhibitions.

I got to learn about things like egg tempera paint, blind contour drawing, and more, by trying it out myself and helping others try it out, too.  Then when I went to see the actual exhibits, I understood some of the work that had gone into these artists’ creations.  It wasn’t just a question of did I or did I not think a painting was pretty; it was a much deeper experience where I could understand just how much time went into mixing those egg tempera paints, and given that, why might the artist have made the choices they made?

There are also museums like the Montreal Science Centre who are getting in on the maker action, as I wrote about in a MakerBridge post last year.  How better to understand engineering marvels than by trying some engineering of your own?

This kind of understanding would also be perfect for a more history-focused museum.  How much effort went into weaving that tapestry, and what can we learn about that historical time period from that?  Who would have owned such a thing, and how would they have acquired it?  What materials were used to dye/paint something?  What is the chemistry of that, and what do those ingredients tell us about trade patterns at the time?  When you start looking at how the things in museums were made, you can engage with them on a whole other level.

For myself, this means that I’m excited to take in exhibits like The Secret Life of Textiles: Plant Fibers.  I can admire the skill that went into creating the objects on display, look for ideas on techniques I might be able to try, and be intrigued by the differences in various fibers when you examine them under microscopes (pdf).  I wonder how that affects what each fiber is like to work with…

How about you?  Do you engage with museums this way?  Have you had any luck trying this approach with students, or selling it to administrators?  Tweet @makerbridge, or tell me about it in the comments.


Image Credit: The observer | El espectador by José Manuel Ríos Valiente is licensed under CC-BY-ND 2.0

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