Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Learning objects: why its not quite as easy as “chunking”

I stand in the gallery looking at a rather grey picture of a water fall. The artist William Turner has used his fingernail to cut through the pigment and provide the flashes of white from the foam at the top of the falls. I consider my plan to bring my children in to the gallery on a visit and imagine explaining to my daughter that these are the Reichenbach falls where Sherlock Holmes died, only to rise again by climbing up the rock ten years later when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave in to public pressure and resurrected his hero.
I’m also aware that this late in January time is running out on this plan as there is very little time left until the collection, under the direction of the bequest under which they were acquired, is locked away for another eleven months to protect it from the effects of sunlight.
I wonder if the rather drab palette in this picture is a result of such fading, or if this was the vision of the (now dead) artist.
All this takes but a moment and indicates the richness of the objects we encounter in everyday life. I could go on, relating this to the rest of turners art in this gallery, placing it within his body of work, or contrasting it with the similar landscape across the room which was not painted from life but which was painted using another artist’s sketch for a guide and from this I could end up discussing plagiarism in art, or I could relate this work to the Hudson river school in the states. I would do this because of the similarities I see in the philosophy which informs them, and is based on my personal juxtaposition of the two bodies of work, having seen the Wadsworth Atheneum exhibit of the Hudson river school two years before, and relating it to my recollection, (possibly faulty) of the four magnificent turner oil paintings in the Frick museum in new York.
In teaching a subject we often perform a spectacular filtering of the actual richness of everyday life, viewing it through the lens of one subject, and one stage in the development of that subject. Maybe we should take more care to look at the minor details as well as the major subject when we are teaching.

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