Museum as Classroom

In a recent post on Iris, the Getty’s blog, George Hein reflects on the role of the gallery as an educational space.  Hein, currently a guest scholar at the Getty is a leading scholar in the field of museum education.  As a professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences at Lesley University, Hein published two books on learning in the museum.  Earlier this month, Hein was asked his thoughts on museums as educational spaces and his outlook on their future roles.

Hein mentions in this interview, particularly in response to his thoughts on museums as progressive organizations, the work of John Dewey.  Dewey’s views on educational reform were adopted by museum professionals and integrated into the new programming that was being developed to reshape museums.  Dewey also wrote a book ‘Art as Experience’ exploring the role and usefulness of aesthetic experiences.  He calls for a renewal of art stating, “A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts.  This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience.”  He believed fundamentally that art should not be separated or cut off from our everyday existence but should retain relevance on the most basic level.

Hein explores in this interview the complex and sometimes warring constituencies of museums.  I trace this institutional confusion in part to the history of these institutions.  Museums coalesced into their modern form at the turn of the 20th century.  They evolved out of private collectionism which had thrived in Europe for centuries and which had intertwined early on with scientific methods being shaped in the Enlightenment.  The first collections of amateur collectors like Lord Hamilton were rooted in a belief that the systematic collection of objects in these Cabinets of Curiosities could inform their understanding of the natural world.  The modern museum emerged during the 19th century with the surge of nationalism which would culminate in the world wars of the 20th century.  As new nation states were formed internationally (Italy, Argentina, Greece etc.) nationalism flared and museums were reconceived as cultural centers which would unify and educate an increasingly industrial working class.

Museums still carry the roots of these different societal functions which, as Hein aptly points out, often lead to schizophrenic attitudes towards their visitors.  Museums can address their goals and constituencies through an exploration and understanding of their past and the historical origins of their diverse roles.  It is through reflection on the past that we truly understand the present and can plan for the future.


About projectpatrimonio

Helena Boyden Lamb, born 1985 in New York, has studied and worked in Politics, Heritage Ethics and Politics, and Opera Singing. Most recently, she is working in Brussels where she started in a European Think Tank and is now the Executive Office of a NGO which facilitates Youth Politics across the EU. She has a Bachelor with Honors from Stanford University, California in Classics: Politics and Heritage and a Masters with Honors from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK in European Identity. She has conducted academic or independent grant-funded research in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and Albania. She was, previously, an archaeologist and an opera singer. Cynthia Querio is a Museum Educator currently living and working in Los Angeles. She is interested in heritage and identity politics and the role of museum education departments in the trajectory of this debate. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a 9 month graduate internship at the Getty Villa's education department and has continued to work in many museums in Los Angeles including LACMA and the Autry National Center. Her academic background is in the Classics, which was her major at Stanford University and which she continued to pursue with a Masters in the History of Classical Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
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