Self-Taught Genius

On their second-to-last day of the program, the Teen Docents explored the Museum’s brand new exhibition, Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum.

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They started the day with an in-depth discussion about a double-sided artwork by 20th century Chicago artist Henry Darger. Because he is one of the best known artists in the Museum’s collection, it was important for the students to spend time with his work before the end of the year. They were taken with his imagery and talked about how the piece depicted “the dark side of childhood.” They had a lot to say about Darger’s depiction of his female characters and had deep, far-reaching interpretations of the message of his artwork. They easily could have discussed it for the full ninety minute class period.

From there, students traveled around the exhibition alone or in groups to find:

  • an artwork made before 1800
  • an artwork made after 1900
  • an artwork that connects to something from a previous exhibition
  • an artwork that they loved

Students were drawn to work by Ronald Lockett, Sheldon Peck, and Judith Scott, using the works as jumping off points for discussions about poverty, predetermination, Calvinism, circumstance, and mystery. They also were thrilled to see the museum’s new acquisition, The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, since they’d studied a different version of the painting earlier in the year.

The Teen Docents were uniformly in love with the exhibition and wish it had gone up sooner so they could have spent more time studying all the different facets of folk art on view!


Final Tours!

On April 9th, the Teen Docents led a crowd of their friends and family, teachers from two of their schools–Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School and Talent Unlimited High School, young people from an organization called The Fortune Society, AFAM staff and other museum professionals on tours of the Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art exhibition. The museum was packed with visitors eager to learn from the teens. The conversations were lively and active; the teens used touch objects to engage their audience and asked questions such as:

  • How do fashion and folk art relate to each other?
  • Would you feel the same way about this dress if it were in a different color?
  • How would you stand if you were wearing this garment?
  • What does it mean for a dress to be soft and spiky at the same time?
  • What does this pairing of fashion and folk art tell you about the culture it came from?