Class #10: Themes Workshop

As the semester is nearing its end, the Teen Docents started to work on themes for their final tours, which will happen in the American Folk Art Museum’s galleries on May 23rd.

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First, they learned some techniques for leading conversations about artwork. They started off by practicing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a way to guide open-ended discussion with the questions “What is going on in this picture?” “What do you see that makes you say that?” and “What more can we find?” After so many weeks of participating in sophisticated conversations about folk art objects, the students had a difficult time leading the conversations for each other without jumping in with their own well-crafted thoughts! They also practiced skills like pointing to the aspects of the artwork that were being discussed, paraphrasing comments, and linking comments back to earlier points in conversation, adding  layers of analysis to their discussion.

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Next, the students considered the importance of choosing a theme when crafting a tour and, using sample images from the collection, created their own themes and sub-themes. Carolyne pulled objects that consisted of images carved into teeth, drawn on unfurled cigarette paper, and painted on a gate; her theme was Materials and her sub-theme was Unconventional Supports. Maziel compiled a set of three artworks that employed all-over patterns; her theme was Patterns and her sub-theme was Breaks in the Pattern. Karina picked a theme of Group Scenes with a sub-theme of Diversity.

Lastly, working in pairs, the students spread out through the museum in order to pick the preliminary themes, sub-themes, and objects they’ll use for their final tours. Stay tuned to find out what they selected!

Class #9: Presenting a Work of Art

The Teen Docents spent the day practicing an important skill they’ll need when leading their final tours: public speaking. As a jumping-off point, they each received two cards that were printed with questions for personal connection, such as: “Find an artwork that feels like home,” or “Find an artwork that seems quiet.” After perusing the galleries for a few minutes in order to choose the images that they felt best answered their questions, they presented their choices to the group.

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After each student presented, they gave each other feedback about what was successful and what could be improved. Some students needed to speak louder, or with more confidence, but they quickly rose to the challenge. Because several of the Teen Docents come from performing arts backgrounds, they were able to draw on their drama skills to help position their bodies to address the audience and to embody confidence. From the beginning, they exuded warmth and passion about their chosen subjects.

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Hilary, the American Folk Art Museum’s education intern, led the second activity of the day. She created a diverse playlist that included classical music, folk songs, rap parodies, and a bombastic Meatloaf selection, and assigned each Teen Docent a song. Armed with their songs, the students spread out through the museum to select a work they felt somehow connected with the music. Because they were so far out of their comfort zones, and were being asked to think so creatively, the Teen Docents were able to lead even livelier, looser, more engaging conversations than before. They saw that when discussing a work of art, they can expand the conversation beyond facts and straightforward observations.

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Class #8: Visiting the Rubin Museum of Art

This week, the Teen Docents ventured downtown to the Rubin Museum of Art, where they met with the Teen Guides Council. The TGC is a group of high school students, like our Teen Docents, who are interested in discussing works of art and learning about the world of museums. During this exchange, the Teen Guides Council students shared invaluable advice and experiences with the American Folk Art Museum’s Teen Docent corps.

After some refreshments, both groups spoke candidly about what they’ve learned thus far in their respective programs. The TGC students told us about their projects, including giving gallery tours and planning events for other high school students. The Teen Docents shared their understanding of folk art, described current exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum, and reflected on their own class activities. Even though the museums have very different collections, the whole group realized their programs had much in common.

Rubin Museum of Art, Teen Guides Council

Rubin Museum of Art, Teen Guides Council

TGC guides then broke us into small groups and led gallery tours, even though the museum was closed to the public! They explored pieces from two exhibitions: Flip Side: The Unseen in Tibetan Art and Living Shrines of Uyghur China.

 Lisa Ross, Black Garden (An Offering), archival pigment print on cotton paper, 2009


Lisa Ross, Black Garden (An Offering), archival pigment print on cotton paper, 2009

The conversational approach of the tours allowed the Teen Docents and the TGC students to have a balanced dialogue about the artwork. Together, they explored a variety of different topics, including religious iconography, feminism, cultural practices around death, symbolism, and ritual. During a debrief back in the RMA’s Education Center, everyone seemed to agree that through collaborative group discussion, they were able to feel comfortable decoding very different expressions of Himalayan Art.

Finally, Teen Docents had the opportunity to give feedback to the Teen Guides Council. The Teen Docents were very impressed with both the artwork and the TGC students! They took note of their confidence and presentation styles, and, undoubtedly, they will use these skills in their own tours this May.

A big thank-you to the Teen Guides Council for a wonderful first experience at the Rubin Museum of Art. We can’t wait to show you our favorite pieces here at the American Folk Art Museum when you visit us next!