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Discovery in the Details

Posted January 1, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

ArtPrize gets people interacting with art by bringing it out into the open. But how can we create an equally exciting viewing experience within a gallery? We all know that making art is fun, but what about looking at it?

KCAD Art History students believe that part of the answer is actually behind us.

In a gallery or museum setting, visitors are often presented with images that can be appreciated solely for their aesthetics. But understanding the economic, social and political forces at work when they were created; who they were created for; and how they were originally displayed brings a much larger and more intriguing picture into focus.

The idea behind Living Landscape, a recent collaboration between KCAD Art History students and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, was to give visitors who had come to view the “Masterpieces of American Landscape Painting” exhibition a way to see the bigger picture.

Students in Professor Anne Norcross’ class treated GRAM visitors to an eclectic assortment of topics presented through videos, dramatic performances, songs, poems, spoken word pieces, detailed image analyses, and more.

Tierney Mittelstadt giving her presentation,

Tierney Mittelstadt giving her presentation, "Photography and the Painted Landscape"

Many even found themselves going beyond their rehearsed scripts to answer questions and explore other dialogues. Clearly, those in attendance found the interactive component of the exhibition a refreshing departure from the usual gallery experience.

Consider this: the artists who produced those iconic landscapes hanging in the GRAM did so by sketching several landscapes and selecting elements from each to include in the finished work. That means that what we see on the wall is really a composite, an idealized interpretation of the American landscape rather than a literal depiction. Armed with that information, we’re suddenly doing a whole lot more than looking at a pretty picture.

Kelsey Herlein giving her presentation,

Kelsey Herlein giving her presentation, "An Application for Decoding a Landscape"

GRAM Docent and Group Tours Senior Coordinator Andrea Morgan conceived Living Landscape as way to enable museum visitors to participate in what she calls “meaning making” – drawing from the historic context to engage with the art on a deeper level.

Despite being the first event of its kind at the GRAM, Living Landscape attracted significant of foot-traffic from outside the museum’s core audience. Now, the challenge becomes how to improve it. Already, conversations are beginning about how to get more students involved, especially those in K-12, who would benefit tremendously from learning early on how interact with art beyond the surface level.

Erin Fisher giving her presentation,

Erin Fisher giving her presentation, "American Landscape Impressions"

“Every program teaches you a lot, and Living Landscape was no different,” said Morgan. “We learned about our audience and our space. I hope to put all that reflection into action as we continue to develop opportunities for engagement around exhibitions.”

Among all who participated, there’s a real sense of excitement about what future events like this could do to get more people in the community interacting with art on a regular basis, and not just at the GRAM. Venues like Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Frederick Meijer Gardens, Craft House, and Mexicains Sans Frontieres are ripe for partnerships that would create an experience around art that transcends the gallery and allow viewers to find their own entry points into the work.

Valerie Goniwiecha giving her presentation,

Valerie Goniwiecha giving her presentation, "An Application for Decoding a Landscape"

All that’s needed to complete the equation are individuals who believe that it’s important to provide viewers of art with a deeper, more meaningful experience. If Anne Norcross and her students are any indication, KCAD is full of people who can lead the way.


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