"In most cases, meaning is a chord, not a note," says Linda Duke, head of the Indianapolis Museum of Art's education department. Duke is talking about how we experience works of art. She is also explaining a new museum program called Thinking Through Art, a collaborative program with the State Department of Education and the Eiteljorg Museum, that is aimed at students and teachers in Indiana schools.
Linda Duke is head of IMA's education department.
"A lot of times," she says, "people think art has a right answer the same way a math problem has a right answer. But that's not the language of art - and it's also not the language of almost any complex problem that involves human beings. It's not the language of social issues. It's not the language of history - or other artforms, like literature or poetry."
Thinking Through Art, says Duke, allows students to bring their own life experiences to the process of engaging with works of visual art. Based on research by psychologist Abigail Housen and educator Philip Yenawine that shows how people think about art they know nothing about, Thinking Through Art is a learner-centered program that asks students to talk about what they think is going on in a given picture. Duke calls this "interpretation grounded in evidence" that "gives added value to students' thoughts."
She adds: "This program is about representing art in a very real way to teachers and students. But it's also a way of developing critical and creative thinking skills that students need for a wide range of subjects and in their lives."
Duke's ultimate goal is to grow the program beyond central Indiana and build a partnership among all the art museums in the state, large and small, using works of art found in Indiana collections.
Last year, 46 teachers took the Thinking Through Art training. Many more teachers are expected to participate in the near future. The program, says Duke, creates opportunities for writing development, language modeling and vocabulary building. It also helps teachers, who may not have had much in the way of arts education, to better understand what art is. Beyond that, the program also offers kids an intellectual opportunity that too often is neglected as schools are increasingly forced to focus on teaching with performance on achievement tests in mind. "It's a chance," says Duke, "for kids to be listened to in ways they may not be during the rest of the day."