Ten years ago I moved to Columbus, OH to study art education at The Ohio State University. The list of things that drew me there was long, but ultimately topped by two things: they offered me more money than the competition and Terry Barrett was teaching there. Terry is known around the world for his work on art interpretation. He is the only person I have ever heard of to be invited to schools as an “art critic-in-residence.” To this wanna-be museum educator turned high school teacher, he was a rock star.
Long before I read his books or studied with Terry I was equally, if not more, interested in engaging people in discussion about artworks as in helping them make their own. As a high school teacher I spent a good deal of class time talking about artworks with students and asking them to write reasoned and reflective responses to them. As a professor of art education I have repeatedly encouraged my students, most of whom are school-based art teachers, to balance studio production with responses to artworks. Terry and his work provided me with concepts and methods to support my own.
Terry has traveled far and wide spreading his gospel of art interpretation. One of the last times I heard him talk about his work he had just come back from time in the Middle East where he had gone to speak with students at a university about art interpretation; Iraq, I think. Tonight, I got to hear him give his first online lecture. Ever.
He introduced himself to students in the UF Art Education program like this:
I’ve been teaching art for 45 years. The most important thing I do as an art educator is facilitate people interpreting art. Aritsts give us knowledge, express experiences, and provide insights about the world through their work. If we don’t teach art interpretation, we are missing a lot of knowledge and experience that is very important. This is something I want to impress upon you tonight, the importance of interpretation, and encourage you all to teach this to your students.
I’m so happy our students got to hear Terry speak about his love of sharing art with others. He has a patient presence, a groundedness, that impacts the work he does. He doesn’t rush conversation, it allows it to unfold, pushes at the edges just enough to keep it going. He suggested, “It’s not about having or providing right answers, rather about engaging in discussion in the interest of discovery.”
[NOTE: This talk was held in Adobe Connect, an online meeting site we use in our program, and worked much better for those of us off campus than the on-campus artist talk streamed last spring which I wrote about at that time. See: Redefining “Artist Talk: Open to the public.”]