In this magnificent presentation, Art Historian Jennifer L. Roberts, avoids all the standard patter and cliches of so many conference education speakers and clearly articulates the importance of teaching students deceleration, patience and in deep attention, skills she identifies as rarely found instructed elsewhere today. Towards this, she opens by underscoring the “disciplinary texture that defines all teaching”. Such brilliantly unpopular ideas spoken so well. She then goes on to describe how she requires that her students, spend “a painfully long time looking at the work”.
Its so mind-blowingly obvious and yet overlooked that students of art should observe a work of art for an extended period, just as the work was intended to be seen. Only by doing so does the work reveal itself.
“Say a student wanted to explore the work popularly known as Boy with a Squirrel, painted in Boston in 1765 by the young artist John Singleton Copley. Before doing any research in books or online, the student would first be expected to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it hangs, and spend three full hours looking at the painting, noting down his or her evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations that arise from those observations. The time span is explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise is the museum or archive setting, which removes the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.
At first many of the students resist being subjected to such a remedial exercise. How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of incident and information on this small surface? How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of things to see and think about in a single work of art? But after doing the assignment, students repeatedly tell me that they have been astonished by the potentials this process unlocked.”