Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Looking At Art, The MoMA Way

I've just this week started a MOOC given by the education staff at MoMA. It's called Art & Inquiry and the instructor is Lisa Mazzola. I'm already finding lots of good resources to improve my skills at inquiry- and object-based learning.

One of the resources made available to participants is a MoMA worksheet with the heading 'Questions About Art.' It's a list of 5 questions you can apply to any work of art, and perhaps to any museum object. So I thought I'd try it out, with the results you see here below:

MoMA Worksheet: Questions About Art - Glass paperweight

1. Describe the object. Think about line, color, texture, pattern, and shape. Can you figure out what it is made of, or how it was made?

This is a rounded, largely transparent object that contains an opaque magenta structure internally. It’s about 3 inches (7-8 cm) tall. Also seen internally are several elongate, club-shaped, transparent structures with what appear to be thick transparent walls. These look like air bubbles.

The general shape is an elongate oval or ovoid, with the wider end flattened so that it sits without rolling on a flat surface. The surface of the object is very shiny and feels hard; it is also heavy and cool to the touch, meaning it is probably made of glass.

The texture of the opaque, central, colored mass appears flat (matte), not shiny, but the internal bubbles appear shiny. The colored shape is irregular but roughly cylindrical with a wider base and a rounded top. It appears to be translucent internally so that the color is seen to be a thin external shell which swirls around the central part, with several gaps allowing one to see inside.

Since it is made of glass, it had to be made with high-heat process such that all of the parts were molten. It is easy to see how the large external globe could have been made by twirling a lump of molten glass until it assumed an elongate spherical shape, but not at all clear how the colored mass and the bubbles were embedded internally.

2. What do you know about this object? What is familiar? What is unfamiliar?

This was sold as a glass paperweight and the spherical shape and flattened bottom surface are familiar and similar to other glass paperweights. The elongate, oval shape of this one, however, is unfamiliar, as most of the other glass paperweights I have seen are almost perfectly spherical. The internal inclusions in this one are unfamiliar - I’ve never seen anything like this in a paperweight before.

3. List words or ideas that come to mind when you look at this object. Why does this object make you think about those words?

Hard, crystal, shiny, depth, swirl, heavy, mass, solid - largely because of its physical composition.

Egg, egg yolk, alien - because of its form.

Mysterious - what is that magenta mass inside doing? Is this an explosion stopped in mid-expansion by a process of crystalization? Why is it giving off bubbles? Is it getting ready to hatch?

4. What associations can you make from it? Why?

Association with all glass paperweights, going back through the history of glass-making (assumed function).

Association with papers, desks, writing (assumed function).

Association with eggs, hatching, unfamiliar life-forms (form + imagination).

5. What questions would you like to ask about this object? Can you guess at the answers to any of them?

Exactly how was the magenta mass inserted into the crystal ovoid; how were the bubbles created? (No clue)

Why did the artist create this particular form? Did she intend any of the associations with eggs that I imagine? (Probably the form arose as a pure outcome of process. Although artistic choices probably guided steps in making the work along the way, the artist may not have known exactly what it was going to look like until it was finished.)

6. In one sentence, describe the most interesting thing about this object.
Because of its mass, transparency and perfect ovoid form, this object is so unlike any everyday physical object that I want to hold it, just to savour the strangeness of its physical presence.

[Paperweight by Heather Konschuh, from The Gallery Shop at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery]

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