Close Encounters with Original Works of Art—Despite the Distance

May 8, 2020
zoom call with participants and image of artwork

When the Harvard Art Museums closed to the public just before Spring Break, it opened new doors in the online space. With numerous course collaborations scheduled for the remainder of the semester, the museums’ staff worked to transform gallery visits and classes in the Art Study Center into interactive visual learning experiences via Zoom.

Collaborations spanned the University, from the Divinity School to the Program in General Education—just as they do in person. In a virtual visit for PSY 1013 The Mind’s Eye: Psychology of Imagination, taught by Natasha Parikh, students joined a team of curators and curatorial fellows to discuss artists’ endeavors to depict people and places they never saw; the ways in which our imagination alters what we remember; and the relationship between creativity and imagination. In a visit for GENED 1158: Water and the Environment, taught by Kaighin McColl, curatorial fellows drew on 17th-century Dutch landscapes to discuss human control of water, and on contemporary photographs of waterlogged environments to illustrate our loss of control. Students also examined a digitized book of textile samples as part of a discussion about the effects of dye production on water systems with a conservation science fellow at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The museum’s presentation “was fantastic,” according to McColl—“a highlight of the class.”

zoom call with class participants and image of artwork

The museums have also forged ahead with live weekly online Art Breaks for faculty and residents at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, building on an existing, in-gallery collaboration with the Joint Program in Nuclear Medicine.

These experiences were enhanced by the selection of works that read well in the online space—such as prints with high-resolution images, objects carved in relief, and works with 3D models. This summer, the museums and the Bok Center are planning to collaborate on workshops on teaching with objects and images, focused on engaging with the museums’ collections online and modeling strategies for slow looking and engaging deeply with the materials that instructors can integrate into their courses.

Regardless of the venue for teaching and learning in the fall, whether we find ourselves in real or virtual classrooms, curator Laura Muir and curatorial fellow Jen Thum of the museums’ Division of Academic and Public Programs encourage interested faculty and Teaching Fellows to search the collections and be in touch regarding future collaborations!

As part of our news about remote teaching, the Bok Center is pleased to share stories from our campus partners.