I had no idea I had a passion for art until I offhandedly signed up for an introductory class on it, but now I have taken every art history class I can fit into my college schedule. I’ve also visited most of Boston’s museums enough times that I feel at home in them. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity because art museums sometimes have an exclusive, even elitist quality. Whether they are marble-columned houses of revered works, or hip, converted warehouses full of contemporary art, museums can make a tentative explorer of art feel out of place. In the hallowed halls of a museum, art seems sectioned off from society as something for collectors, curators, and art students to look at and understand. I can’t imagine a better remedy to this than the integration of art museums into the education process.
American universities have started to do just this, and not only for art history majors. Museums are opening up on campuses all across the country so professors in a wide range of programs can integrate art into the learning process in unexpected ways. Now students in sustainability and forestry programs at Michigan State University study landscape photography; while at Duke University, geology students examine the aging process of artwork carved from stone; and graduate students in the social work program at the University of North Carolina write detailed descriptions of artworks to evaluate how they describe and perceive things. This exposes students to the art world in new ways and makes the works relevant to every field of study.
It also shows how art can be instructive and teach the artists’ audience a great deal about how they perceive the world. The study of art also involves the study of visual communication, creative thinking, and interpretation. Alison Doernberg, a student at University of North Carolina, says of her experience learning in a museum: “The lesson is that it’s not just what I am seeing in a piece of art or a client. It’s also thinking about why I perceive things the way I do. Are they coming from things in front of me or from other sources in my life? It feels very transferable to me.”
If this trend continues to grow, it could change the role museums play in society and the role art plays in education. I may be a little envious that I’ll graduate before it reaches every campus, but I’m also excited to see art used in college classrooms in such creative and integrative ways.