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Enjoy the intimate setting of an acclaimed college art museum.Learn More
Enjoy the intimate setting of an acclaimed college art museum.Learn More
The Allen presents changing exhibitions along with engaging guest speakers and public programs.Learn More
The Allen's collection is particularly strong in 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting, Japanese prints, early modern art, African art, and more.Learn More
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Delve into the complexities of objects and their histories. Class visits place students in firsthand conversation with objects, complementing the ways learning may take place through lab sessions, textual analysis, and guided research projects.
Encounters with objects need no previous knowledge or experience; rather, they allow faculty members and students to slow down, cue into their emotions, practice deep attention, and discover new perspectives and modalities for both teaching and learning.
While we teach with objects in a variety of ways, we frequently use one or more of the five models below to encourage specific modes of thinking:
We urge faculty members who want to use the museum in their teaching to first define their desired learning outcomes for the session. As a team, we can work together to accomplish these goals by pairing pertinent objects and engaging activities.
Additional examples of pedagogical tools and assignments for effective object-based teaching can be found on TeachVisual, a website produced by the Allen in collaboration with the Peeler Art Center at DePauw University and the College of Wooster Art Museum through a generous grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association.
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Learning how to look actively and critically enhances understanding and prepares students to better navigate the complex visual environment of the 21st century. Faculty members often request sessions that focus exclusively on teaching students how to observe, describe, analyze, and interpret images. Exercises in active seeing can affirm the validity of students' individual insights when supported by concrete visual details. This model also encourages students to use visual forms of evidence in learning and research beyond the museum, such as in papers, oral presentations, other course assignments, and extracurricular activities.
English and comparative literature classes that engage in close readings of texts—emphasizing the importance of form and structure in the construction of meaning—use AMAM artworks to learn and practice not only how to “read” art, but also how to transform a private, visual experience into a verbal one that can be readily communicated.
A class on the poetry of love and seduction in the Renaissance examined Albrecht Dürer’s 1516 etching Abduction of Proserpina not only for subject matter but also to establish that the drama is conveyed stylistically through agitated, swirling, and densely hatched lines that heighten the ominous atmosphere and tension of this forceful encounter.
Art is often integrated into a course to provide a broader cultural context for a particular period or a specific locale. Introducing students to visual culture as part of a social or historical moment can aid understanding of the course material. For example, a French seminar on the culture of Louis XIV’s Versailles as seen through contemporary literature is supplemented by key artworks, such as Gaspard Dughet’s Classical Landscape with Waterfalls, that illustrate contemporary artistic genres, including political propaganda and royal portraiture.
Conservatory classes that study the music of different countries often focus on the intersections between musical and visual artistic expression, as well as issues of patronage, display, and social and political influences. Courses in historical performance utilize the collection to develop a comprehensive understanding of these disparate topics.
Faculty members use AMAM collections to illustrate, expand upon, reinforce, or test the understanding of ideas and conceptual frameworks encountered in class. This model has the widest application across disciplines and enhances student learning by introducing a visual component.
A class on 18th- and 19th-century British literature has visited the museum to study landscapes that embody the aesthetic categories of the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque. An encounter with visual manifestations of these categories, exemplified by the works of John Martin, Thomas Cole, and Joseph Wright of Derby, helps students to better understand these otherwise abstract concepts.
A first-year seminar on the symphony in cultural thought and practice looks at works that provide visual metaphors or pictorial equivalents for musical concepts such as the grotesque, the exotic, and the nostalgic. A course on human physiology studies artistic representations of love, from lust to pair-bonding. The class considers how strong emotions are portrayed in the East and West and whether these depictions align with emerging scientific understanding of the biology of love.
Using art as a primary text introduces students to the concept of art as a cultural document. This approach is extensively utilized by scholars who rely largely on textual primary sources. Faculty members from the history and politics departments describe how images often shed invaluable light on their larger political, social, economic, or cultural contexts.
A course on the history of medieval and early modern Europe uses 15th- and 16th-century prints to trace changing attitudes toward death and the human body. These often address the year 1500—characterized by the popular belief that the world might end—as well as the newly emerging Renaissance humanist movement and its emphasis on human anatomy.
An introductory class on the politics of the Middle East and North Africa discusses Edward Said’s influential book Orientalism. Photographs such as Gustave de Beaucorps’s Harem Slave, Algeria serve as vivid examples of how the visual arts were simultaneously shaped by and enacted the agendas of Western imperialism and colonial expansion.
Art may act as an inspiration for class assignments. Research papers, visual analysis exercises, creative writing, musical compositions, student presentations, blog posts, and oral language exams may all be designed around one or more artworks.
Russian and Spanish language faculty ask their students “Are you the same person when you speak in a language other than your mother tongue?” These classes then visit the museum to discuss identity and likeness in self-portraits by artists such as Claude Cahun, Jim Dine, and Ernst Kirchner in preparation for writing their own verbal “self-portraits.”
Students in a class on advanced electroacoustic music study images of literal and metaphorical storms; the visual depictions serve as a resonant approach to a musical composition assignment based on the concept of a storm.
Our galleries are active spaces for intellectual exploration. Curators often rotate the works on view to offer new ways of exploring the collection. In addition, due to the high caliber of our holdings, we often loan works to other institutions. To ensure that the objects you would like to teach with are on view, please contact the Office of Academic Programs.
We typically allow groups of up to 25 students to visit at one time, but recommend that, for close observation of art works, this space is best suited to groups of no more than 17. Due to COVID-19 protocols, however, groups are limited.
In the print study room, works are often shown out of their frames and vitrines. For this reason, please review our policies, which help us protect artworks for future generations of Oberlin students.
Understanding an object within the context of a class takes time. Because our pedagogical model embraces active, inquiry-based learning, student response and collaborative learning is central. While every class is different, we recommend that you allocate at least 10 minutes of the session to look at and discuss each object. We suggest the following guidelines for selecting objects:
Class assignments, and especially research projects, using objects as their starting points can offer students the experience of conducting original research. In addition to traditional formats such as response essays or research papers, Oberlin faculty have devised digital projects that allow students to develop curatorial thinking, as well as communication and collaboration skills. We recommend that assignments and projects requiring in-depth research on objects be developed with the curator of academic programs so that students can be given the access to the collections and curatorial files they need to successfully complete their projects.
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