LRMA: Juan, please share with our members how you first began working with LRMA and what this experience has been like for you as an educator.
JF: I teach English as well as Developmental Writing. Writers need a concrete topic from which to work deeper, more abstract thoughts. Study any of the works from the great writers and you’ll note the deeper, more abstract and philosophical thoughts made their way from visual, tangible topics – people, places and things – though all are characteristically molded from the deep stuff, the deeper matters of life.
When I first walked into the Leepa- Rattner Museum of Art, I knew I had a means for teaching writing. Art – visual, tangible Art (with a capital A) is like
this: It is a perfect medium for teaching writing. An Art piece has a creator, it has
a history, it has theme, direction, color, form, shape, drama, irony, even rising and falling action; moreover, it is a conduit for revelatory thinking – highly interpretive, spiritually and dynamically crystalline in sensation. LRMA – on a college campus – is nothing less than a host of these ideas.
You want deep, thinking in student essays? Then begin with the concrete stuff that really matters, and that comes from visual, tangible Art. Students want to write about deep stuff; they want to expand. They just need a special place and the accoutrements for doing it!
LRMA: Give us an example of how you utilize museum resources in your classes.
JF: Students work and write out a basic description of their selected art. That’s basic, but from there research begins. Students do historical, biographical, and even some focused study on the particular genre of art from which their piece comes. From knowledge concerning historical and biographical background, students then begin to single out a theme that the art piece possesses. This means that students will identify and synthesize certain abstract and concrete symbols within the painting or sculpture — often coming from its historic context. This also includes any ironic use of contrasting colors and images. This teaches students that various forms of art — whether visual or literary — are quite nearly the same. From that vantage point, I can more easily move into the interpretation of literature; hence, we move from the concrete to the abstract.
LRMA: The development of critical thinking skills is considered an essential component of a complete education. How does the museum experience contribute to the development of these skills?
JF: I always thought it interesting that the word critical is rooted in the Greek “kritike” and how wonderful that our students are coming to understand this concept, within a Greek community where our campus is situated. To critique means to analyze and to appreciate (something) for the mechanical and spiritual values it possesses. To critique means that one must approach the topic as if approaching a mountain or a gust of wind—to feel it and understand it means you have to stand there, be there right with it! To employ the skill of kritike means that a student must conjure up his/ her ability to distinguish, discriminate, separate and analyze. Michael Polanyi, a great philosopher, chemist and writer once wrote, “We cannot understand the whole by simply viewing its parts, but by viewing the whole we can understand the use of its parts.” Art at LRMA embodies that thought. The experience is both inductive and deductive. That’s critical thinking!
LRMA: You were among a group of our teaching partners who were invited to meet with representatives of the American Alliance of Museums during a recent site visit at the museum. What were you most proud to share with the visiting team about the work you and your students have done at the museum?
JF: With help from my department, I put together a compilation of student essays from one semester—probably over a hundred pieces that were bound and ready for AAM’s look-see. What I was most proud of was the passion and meaning-making that our students showed in the renditions of their selected pieces.
LRMA: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
JF: LRMA is a wonderful place for learning: large, spacious rooms incredibly loaded with the stuff of sensation and impression, boards for chalking and talking provided, books, and teaching docents. It is, quite literally, what a learning environment should be.
The museum offers a membership program. Learn more about membership levels and benefits on LRMA’s website.