Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

To the Skeleton with Cansfield High December 9, 2008

Filed under: Pathways and Progression — enquiremanchester @ 10:12 am
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Cansfield High joined us at the museum last week for our first To the Skeleton session.  The idea was to use the Tyrannasaurus Rex skeleton to look at negative and positive spaces in art and then to develop those drawings with inspiration from local artist, Rob Bailey, and grafitti artist, Banksy.

Another big feature of the Pathways and Progressions programme for us (which is funding the free school sessions) is that we are looking at how the museum ‘environment’ can promote learning.  By ‘environment’ we mean the people, collections and places in the museum.

To the Skeleton makes best use of the museum spaces and collections by using the T. Rex for observational drawing  (arguably one of the most dynamic and exciting objects any student is likely to come across in their school day).  By drawing through acetate and making scissor drawings by cutting the spaces around the bones of the skeleton out of black paper, we encourage the students to use the museum space in new and experimental ways.

When I was delivering the session I made no pretense of the fact that this was the first time we’d tried out some of the techniques.  I thought it was important that the students knew that this was an experiment for me as well as them and that they could see that I was confident in that position.  I don’t know whether it made any difference, but despite the scale of the object they were being asked to draw and the challenge of the negative space drawings, the quality and breadth of work produced spoke for itself.

The museum spaces and its collections were also picked up on in the students written feedback which mirror how they marvelled at the skeleton as they first approached it:

“at school its just a small room but at a museum you can explore”

“school is in one room and the museum is one big room with lots of things to look at”

“working at the museum you could see the things in 3D that you were drawing”

“freedom to express yoiur own work in the session”

“you got to do what you want instead of being told specifically an you can learn by experiencing it first hand”

“you could see actual things instead of just pictures”

Nearly half of the students commented on the size of the T. Rex in their written feedback.

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An Art Historian in the Museum December 3, 2008

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire — enquiremanchester @ 9:10 am
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Jen Ashton has written this piece about her experiences of working with us on our educational programmes.  Enjoy!

I began working with the Manchester Museum secondary education team in 2007. The process of working with the team has been enlightening; working in the museum space has been inspirational. Not only has working in the Museum influenced my research as an Art Historian, but has challenged my own preconceptions of what a museum and its collections can, and should, be used for.

My own memories of childhood museum visits are not, admittedly, altogether positive.

On coach – hurried in building – stare at objects – lunch – gift shop – coach – school – discussion of plastic toy/ bag of gem stones/ postcard purchased in gift shop – home.

Why were we hurried past exhibit after exhibit, no lingering, no delayed, slow walk up and down, no pondering over shapes, colour, forms, textures, histories? And why was it that the museum was left in the museum? There seemed to be a disconnection between the two spaces – the classroom, filled high with paper and books was distinctly separate from the museum, full of scrumptious objects, jewels, insects, stuffed animals and mummified bodies. Never the twain shall meet – only on that school trip. The museum visit was, for me, almost a token gesture of ‘other cultural activity’, a tick box filled. Did teachers (do they now?) understand the vastness of the rich material held by the museum, and how to utilised that material to stir imaginations and challenge curious minds? And on the flip side: did museum staff (do they now?) understand the needs of these little people; how to present their collections, verbally and visually; to engage and entertain; to stimulate interest, so they long to ponder, linger……..

As an art historian I like to look. As a child, I am not sure if ‘just looking’ was enough – I wanted discussion, explanation, activity, a chance to explore the space, a sense that the museum belonged to me also, not just those ‘in the know’ – those knowledgeable adults, with their big posh words, and unpronounceable naming games. As a child I remember the museum being closed off to me. A space I didn’t feel comfortable in. I never imagined I would eventual come to work in such a space.

As an ‘outsider’ to the museum collections, I am still not one of those ‘knowledgeable adults’. I have only just learnt to spell palaeontology. But I am in. I have been turned. Art History is concerned with all things visual, whether it be paintings, sculpture, architecture, textiles, furniture, fashion, jewellery, photography, illustration, roads signs, advertising, maps – the list is endless …… we live in a visual context. The museum is a visual space, from the exhibits themselves, to the building which contains them, to the landscape (urban or rural) in which it sits. As an Art Historian I have nothing to add of specimen value, I have only my images, my ways of seeing. When I look at the urchins, the jelly fish, the birds, pressed clematis and ferns, (I have currently been working with the Natural Sciences collections) I am viewing them as art objects. Rightly or wrongly, I initially ignore their scientific context, and immediately place them in an art context (remember the shapes, colour, forms, textures?) As a historian of art, I am thus intrigued by the object’s story into the museum, and how new histories can be created through new interactions and interpretations.

I view my role in the museum as thus: to discuss objects in their visual context; to engage students and visitors in the artistry of the collections – whether natural or man-made – to enable students to make connections between the school space and museum space; to develop connections between the museum and all areas of the curriculum. I have always championed interdisciplinary practices; the museum enables this blurring of boundaries between the arts and sciences – a good thing for all concerned, I feel.

Lastly, I think as an Art Historian a can also introduce new names and visuals to the curators themselves; to engage them in new ways of seeing. It is a learning curve for us all.