Summer Institute: Participant’s Perspective

“Imagine, Innovate, Advocate” is the ninth annual Summer Institute for Arts in Education hosted by the Center for Arts in Education at Boston Arts Academy, featuring innovative PEP (Peers Educating Peers) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum strands, as well as workshops for school leaders.

We are so excited to be in the middle of this global institute for educators and thought leaders! We asked our participants to share their thoughts- here is our first blog for Summer Institute 2013:

By Mark Lonergan, Center for Arts in Education Fellow and BAA STEAM Faculty

The theme of this year’s summer institute is “Imagine, Innovate, Advocate.” For me, one of the best places to think about imagination and innovation is the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In planning the Summer Institute, I was put in charge of leading a group of participants on a visit to the MFA. We wanted to look for connections to Science, Math, Technology and Engineering as part of the STEAM strand of SI.


Iago's Mirror

Helping me to coordinate this visit was BAA’s Creative Director (and visual arts teacher) Monika Aldarondo. We visited the MFA together to plan the group trip and to try to generate guiding questions. My training is in math and math education, so it was extremely instructive for me to visit alongside a visual artist and be able to ask her questions about the pieces we saw in the museum. My typical museum experience usually involves spending about 4 or 5 seconds looking at a piece of art and asking myself one question: Do I like this? With Monika as my guide, I was able to dig a bit deeper. We talked about different materials and their properties (especially looking at a piece called “Iago’s Mirror” that uses a black mirror). We also talked about the iterative process involved in making art (similar to the engineering/design process), thinking about “mistakes” we saw in the artwork and wondering if they were happy accidents or intentional choices made by the artists.

In art school, Monika said that she was often sent to a museum to look closely at a single piece of art for an hour or more.  When I brought

Portrait of a Young Married Couple

our Summer Institute group to the MFA the next day, all of us decided to try to replicate that experience, but only for 20 minutes.  I chose to spend my 20 minutes with “Portrait of a Young Married Couple” by Jacob Jordaens.  I selected this piece mainly because it was close to a very comfy-looking bench.  It was hard to look at the same piece for 20 minutes but not boring.  After I noticed the basic contents of the image (a young man and a young woman), I then had to think about what else I saw and didn’t see.  At first, most of my questions were about the young couple in the picture:  Who were they?  Did they like each other?  But after awhile, my thoughts shifted to think about the choices that the artist had made:  Why did the woman’s hands show up so clearly, but the man’s hands seem hidden?  Where was the light source for the image?  Did the subjects pose for a long period of time or was this painted from memory?  Is their expression of boredom because they were tired of standing and posing?

At the end of our visit, I brought the rest of the SI participants back to view my painting. I talked about my viewing experience and then we talked together about the piece. This conversation was the best part of the visit. Not because we now knew all of the answers about each of our paintings, but because we had generated lots of great questions.

I brought the group to the MFA hoping to seek inspiration, develop new ideas and look for connections between disciplines. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make a math lesson that connects to “Iago’s Mirror” or “Portrait of a Young Married Couple”, but I am sure that the deep looking and deep thinking that I am beginning to do at the MFA is a skill that my students sometimes need on a math problem or in a science classroom.