New Commentary on Teaching the American Art Survey


Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Source: Library of Congress)

It seems that summer is the season for new publications to appear! My most recent short essay,  “Teaching American Art to American Artists: Object-Based Learning at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” was published today in the Summer 2016 issue of Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. The essay is part of a roundtable on pedagogy headed by an essay by Jules Prown reflecting on his decades of experience teaching American art and material culture. Alongside Prown’s essay are reflections by three of his students, Bryan J. Wolf, Margaretta M. Lovell, and Glenn Adamson, and five “reflections from the front lines” written by Jessica L. Horton, Kevin R. Muller, Sarah Anne Carter, Jason D. LaFountain, and yours truly. It was an honor to be invited to participate in this issue.

My essay reflects on my experiences teaching the American art survey to studio art students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I have been a lecturer in art history at PAFA since Spring 2015, and during that time I have developed teaching methods that take advantage of the institution’s rich collection of American art and my students’ natural abilities in visual learning. Specifically, I created the gallery talk, an assignment that requires students to research individual works in the PAFA collection and then to lead their classmates in a discussion of the formal qualities, subject matter, and relevance of the work within the narrative of American art. In writing this piece, I hope to encourage art history instructors to experiment with object-based learning.

A brief excerpt:

The gallery talk proved valuable in several key ways. First, it gave students the opportunity to conduct discussions in formal analysis in front of works from the PAFA collection. This had the added benefit of breaking up our long class sessions: at PAFA, all classes are scheduled in three-hour blocks to accommodate studio instruction. Second, students had a chance to practice public speaking in a museum setting, a skill that will be important in their future careers as professional artists. Lastly, the gallery talk fostered a sense of camaraderie among the students: because each student took a turn in leading discussion, they were highly motivated to participate in discussion during their classmates’ talks. Assigning the students to become the instructors also gave them insight into my role in fostering discussion each week, and class participation improved overall. This sense of belonging extended to include the school itself, as students made connections between their experiences today and to the training of American artists that is the legacy of PAFA.

To access my full essay, CLICK HERE. To read all the other essays included in the roundtable on pedagogy, CLICK HERE. For a full table of contents of the latest issue of Panorama, which includes many excellent essays, CLICK HERE.


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