April 15, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement, Tech
Tuning in and Hanging Out: Kicking Off the Art Hangs with MoMA Learning Series

On April 4, I teamed up with fellow educators Lisa Mazzola and Jessica Baldenhofer to kick off Art Hangs with MoMA Learning, an experimental series of Hangout on Air gatherings hosted by educators at MoMA. At the inaugural Art Hang, Lisa and Jessica led invited guests through an inquiry-based chat about art through the lens of identity, with a focus on two collection works: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills and Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled, from the series Dear Painter, Paint for Me (1981). While Hangouts are limited to 10 on-camera participants, hundreds more tuned in to the live stream on the Google+ event page, on YouTube, and live-tweeted with the #ArtHang hashtag. The conversation was broadcast live, and auto-archived to YouTube. We invite you to check out the proceedings below.

Why Hangout?

As educators, we have the privilege of helping visitors from around the world connect with the art in our galleries. But there’s a limit to the number of people we can serve in a day and, historically, participants have had to show up at a physical location at a specific time. At the same time, we know that MoMA has a growing audience of people who engage with us primarily through, social media, or other digital avenues, and who may not have the ability or opportunity to visit us in person. Hangouts on Air make it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to learn alongside us, regardless of time zone or location. Viewers could tune in at the scheduled time, or watch the digital archive on YouTube. Since April 4 we’ve tracked hundreds more views of the video, and #ArtHang tweets keep trickling in. The format seems to offer us a natural platform for sharing our on-site practices to an increasingly global audience.

The open and sharable nature of this format also aligns very closely with our approach to content, both on-site and online. This includes MoMA Learning, a site designed to provide free digital resources for anyone interested in learning or teaching about modern and contemporary art—be they teachers, students, or lifelong learners. Art Hangs are part of a larger mission to lower the barriers to art education, and to make art accessible both on-site and online. It’s an idea that is itself an outgrowth of the way we teach in the galleries.

Rethinking “Expertise”

Though future Art Hangs may take a different format, we wanted to kick off the series by inviting a panel of “non experts”—or, rather, experts from fields beyond art and museums. From high school to high tech, fashion to architecture, even veterinary practice(!), our esteemed panel came from diverse backgrounds but shared at least two things in common. All of them had expressed an enthusiasm for art, and none of them had any extensive background in art or art history.

During introductions, one of our panelists expressed that discussing art was “outside of my realm, and I’m a little bit nervous.” One of the things we hope our Art Hangs can demonstrate is that engaging deeply with art doesn’t require scholarly expertise. I’m not gonna lie—one of the great things about working at a place like MoMA is the opportunity to work side by side with artists, curators, researchers, educators, and others who have years of experience and knowledge about art. Having said that, we know that learning is about much more than “leveling up” to expert status, or consuming and memorizing facts. It’s about engagement, and there are many possible ways to approach or interpret a work of art.

As educators, we can provide a scaffolding through various means such as conversation, texts, media, etc. But our ultimate goal is to empower others to with the tools and strategies to construct their own interpretations. And while we don’t think you need a degree in art history to have a meaningful engagement with art, it does require a willingness to slow down, to engage all of your senses, to listen, think critically, and ask lots of questions.

Our first Art Hang was scheduled to last an hour and, like all good conversations, it flew by in an instant. Jessica, Lisa, and I have spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about the works we’d discussed, but we were still thrilled with some of the new observations expressed by all those who participated. Thanks to Elvis, Sara, Grace (their teacher), Jessie, Katharine, Katie, Robin, and Theo for participating. We’re looking forward to more Art Hangs in the future.