Lenox High School Seniors Visit WCMA
Last March 8 the Grade 12 students enrolled in my Honors Humanities course at Lenox Memorial High School visited the museum to participate in the program, Mysteries of the Ancient World. The students had studied Greek art and architecture in the course, and were excited to see artifacts prior to their visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art later in the year.
The museum staff had conducted a workshop with teachers in the fall to determine what activities would be appropriate for school visits. This workshop was very productive, the result being an efficient and enjoyable program with engaging activities. Two of the objects which drew the students’ attention were the Assyrian relief and the Greek krater, because we had studied similar works in class. Seeing the actual objects makes a very different impression than looking at slides. They were especially appreciative of the emphasis on close observation of the works of art. I remember the docent pointing out that two very similar jars proved to be quite different upon inspection. Once we recognized the differences, we found it easier to observe the other works with care.
The best part of going to a museum is to be surprised. And the students certainly had that experience, from the entrance to the building to the special exhibits. Walking up from the bus stop we were greeted by Louise Bourgeois’ “Eyes.” Immediately, a student turned to me and said with excitement, “I know that this museum is going to be different.” The promise was fulfilled with the ASCO exhibit, which became a topic of class conversation for the next two days.
My wife and I had seen the ASCO exhibition before the class visit, so I knew that my students would respond to it. The museum staff sent a DVD about the exhibit, which I showed to the class before the day of our visit. The students knew what to expect, generally, but were overwhelmed by the actual works of art. Afterwards they told me that what especially intrigued them was “No Movie.” They kept referring back to what those photographs did to narrative time, the way each picture suggested a “before” and “after” which did not exist, or which existed only in the mind of the viewer. Soon the students brought up the literary convention of “in medias res,” but they saw a crucial difference. The reader knows that the author will provide the information to ground the scene which occurs “in medias res.” But there is no authorial ground for “No Movie,” so, as one student put it, “You’re floating in time.”
The final surprise was the museum itself. By the time a Lenox student becomes a senior, he has typically visited the Clark Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Wadsworth Museum, MOMA, and the Met. A high school student can become somewhat jaded after all of that. But WCMA cured them. None of the students had visited the museum prior to our class trip, and felt that they had made a “find.” The trip allowed us to talk about the fact that there is always something new to see in a museum, or a new way of seeing what we had seen before.
Bill Irvin, Lenox High School Teacher
Attributed to the Troilos Painter (Greek, active ca. 520-480 BC), Red-figure vase, ca. 520-480 BC, terracotta, Museum purchase, Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund. (64.9)
Photo by Arthur Evans of the Williams College Museum of Art and Eyes by Loiuse Bourgeois.
Asco, À La Mode, 1976, black and white photograph by Harry Gamboa, Jr. Courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) Library. © Asco; photograph © 1976 Harry Gamboa, Jr.