By Howard Clemens
The virtual tour of a historical site, art museum or even a college or university has become the standard for many websites’ online visitors. As an educational tour consultant for many years, I do not recommend that students gain their whole experience from the online tour of an art museum. There is no replacement for seeing art in person. I always encourage a visit to at least one major museum when student groups travel to a city like Washington D.C. or New York City.
Nowadays, teachers can more easily prepare students for a student trip to New York City by virtually taking their classroom to the destination and specific sites in that place, such as museums. This is the beginning of a blended learning experience. Visiting the actual destination and seeing current exhibitions and authentic paintings or sculptures complements the online viewing experience. A visit to New York City allows students to wander inside the museum, the district and the community – learning to see art as part of the fabric of life.
I want to focus on two specific international art museums in New York City – The Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Part of these museums’ permanent collections are available for viewing online – with more being digitized and added.
The permanent collection of many museums is not available for viewing at all times. Often major works of art are in storage. Some are in the restoration process, while some are only displayed for special shows or regular exhibits and rotated back into storage. The work of famous artists also goes on tour and is leant to other museums. Traveling art brings notoriety and resources to a museum.
All of this may frustrate the art student and teacher. Exposure to the works of the masters helps students acquire new techniques and gain inspiration from fellow artists ideas about color, form and theme.
Teachers can more easily develop lesson plans around the work of specific artists in these digital collections. Or, perhaps teachers will focus on studying periods of art, and the type of work and artists who defined that era.
Let’s step through a sample blended learning exercise, utilizing digital works in these two collections to understand Modern Art of the first part of the 20th Century.
First, go to the page on the MOMA website where you can search for artists:
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
MOMA is named after the Modern Art period and has an outstanding collection, with 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art in the collection and 61,000 works available online. A look into Pablo Picasso’s work will show students that Picasso was an adept painter who also made lithographs. Students can even view the drawings that later became paintings – gaining insight into Picasso’s artistic process.
Now, let’s visit the Guggenheim’s collection, and see more work by this master painter who took Paris by storm. Visit: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online and search for ‘Picasso.’ Guggenheim’s collection contains many selected and famous paintings by Picasso, beginning in the early part of his career in 1900 and ending in 1965. Art students can observe and analyze the evolution of an artist, beginning with an interest in painting the figure and people, and evolving into a fascination for abstraction. By viewing Picasso’s work, students will understand why he is often referred to as the progenitor of Cubism.
As students are tasked with viewing Picasso on their own, they will learn more from Moma.org and the Guggenheim’s website about the subject matter of individual pieces. Picasso’s contemporaries, such as Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are also mentioned in painting descriptions and Picasso’s biography.
Complementing these studies in the classroom, a visit to MOMA or the Guggenheim Museum to see some of the actual works of Picasso or his contemporaries is an excellent way to blend the classroom experience with real world encounters. Students can wander around the interior of the museums, viewing real works and learning more about the Manhattan communities where MOMA and the Guggenheim are located.
The number of masterpieces in museum collections in New York City is staggering. To have these works available for viewing online is a phenomenal leap. This can be said for other large urban museums housing collections as well. The number of digital masterpieces available will continue to grow and expand.
Use technology and student tours as a means of inspiring students to gain insights through careful study of the masters who have gone before them.