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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Seeing Things Differently, SLAV Conference 2009

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 13, 2009

Blogged live at the conference, so typos and errors will be tidied up later at home!

The focus of this conference is to explore multiliteracies and visual learning, and so the NGV as venue is ideal.  The opening address reminded us of the interdisciplinary aspects of learning in the 21st century.  Learning through the visual arts is championed by not only educational  experts, but is also recognised by political leaders such as Barack Obama.  The arts teaches children that there are multiple solutions to probelms, and make vivid that neither words nor numbers exhaust everything we can know, especially when considering feelings and emotions.

The growth of technology saturates everyday life, and children are swamped by it.  42% of children prefer to learn visually, and this is a statistic we can’t ignore.  Linking learning with the arts, at the NGV or any other gallery is therefore a valuable learning experience that is intellectually challenging outside of the school walls.  It enriches children by teaching tolerance, flexibility and originality.

Michelle Stockley from the NGV talked about narrative and story-telling.  Her first example was the wonderful painting of The banquet of Cleopatra, and she reminded us that while most people can correctly interpret the status of the painting’s participants and other visual cues, but the story behind it – Cleopatra’s bet with markl Anthony needs to be told – or they can read the labels on the wall at the gallery, or the touch screens but these involved not just the ability to read but also the knowledge about where to find it.   Basic museum literacy involves reading objects and full competence means being able to draw on all the resources of the gallery to make sense of the experience.  A museum literate visitor can not only make sense of the pciture but also its place in the gallery – the 18th century gallery that it’s sited in.  It means being able to compare it with other paintings around it including works by the same and other artists.

Michelle referred to Gombirch’s The Story of Art, which was enduringly popular because it was a narrative about art that people found easy to enjoy and understand,  But there were voices missing: indigenous artists, women, photographers and other forms of new media.  The narrative view of the development has been challenged in recent years, and is now more inclusive.  

Sometimes the story behind an acquisition is fascinating.  How did we come to have Tiepolo’s painting here at the NGV?  It came on the market because the USSR thought its subject matter degenerate, and sold it to fund its Stalinist programs.  Negotiating its purchase was therefore politically incorrect, but we bought it anyway.

Critical literacy is important too.  Some of the nationalistic paintings that are so popular omitted women’s experience and the indigenous experience.  Diana Jones, shearing the Rams 2001 appropriates Tom Robert’s pitcture and puts in indigenous shearers in the picture.  Some recent exhibitions place side by side with iconic paintings that we know, different topical views of the same issue.

Stories from behind the scenes are fascinating too.  The restoration of  Arthur Streeton’s Spring involved removing stripping off Estapol over many months (and you can read about this online if you Google “The fine Art of Stripping” though it may be safer to use Arthur Streeton’s Spring as a search term!)  Michelle also explained that the way an exhibition is set up – the colour of the gallery walls, the sounds and lighting used all contribute to the narrative of the art works.

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