Tag Archives: Education

Art Museum Hires Neuroscientist. Repost

This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art

  • Anila Quayyum Agha, All the Flowers Are for Me, 2017. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.

From the late 16th to the early 20th century, the salon-style hang was the predominant display convention across Europe. But hanging paintings like this—crammed cheek to jowl in a gallery space—has since fallen out of favor, in part because it tends to prevent viewers from concentrating on a single work.

But why, exactly? The reason may have something to do with the circuitry of the human brain—which is why at least one museum is branching out and recruiting a neuroscientist to join its team.  “On a behavioral level, it can be distracting to walk into a room and have tons of things to look at,” said Dr. Tedi Asher, who earlier this year joined the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts, for a one-year appointment as Neuroscience Researcher. “At the level of neurological activation, each painting will be presented less strongly.”

I met with Asher at her office, where the walls are decorated with brain-themed cartoons and diagrams, including a jumbo-sized image of Purkinje cells in a mouse cerebellum. To corroborate her claim, Asher invoked the theory of sensory suppression, which holds that a barrage of sensory stimuli—such as the salon-style hang—deadens the optical-neurological apparatus of the viewer.

She illustrated the point by pointing to her smartphone and a plastic pen. “If you have multiple objects in the same view, you’re going to have some neurons that respond to the phone and other neurons that respond to the pen,” she said. “It’s been shown that the neurons that respond to one are going to actively suppress the neurons that respond to the other. The representation of the objects in the brain seems to be weakened by having multiple objects.”

The appointment of Asher is part of a broader campaign by Dan Monroe, the museum’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO, to deploy neuroscience in the service of exhibition design.

Under his leadership, this mid-sized museum north of Boston, which is best known for its extensive holdings in Asian and maritime art, has already gained national attention for convention-busting exhibitions. At the entrance to “Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age,” visitors were greeted by cylinders of spices—cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns—that promoted more lasting memories by engaging multiple senses. For “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture,” a troupe of live dancers confounded viewer’s expectations of the white cube.

Hiring Asher in May was the next step in pushing forward the Peabody’s mission. Over the next year, she’ll meet regularly with an advisory panel of neuroscientists, and will ultimately produce a publication that crystallizes her findings.

“Anecdotally, we’re all familiar with the idea that a satisfying experience has this delicate balance of meeting and violating our expectations,” Asher said. “In the context of exhibition design, how can we surprise people in a way that won’t be jarring but will help viewers make sense of what they have seen? Something that is unexpected takes longer to detect—but it also makes a more lasting imprint.” At the Peabody Essex, Asher will apply the principles of neuroaesthetics—the synthesis of neuroscience and aesthetics—to a reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection that will unfold over the next five years. Since arriving at the museum, she has been an advocate for the gallery-goer’s brain, making the case for display conventions that sidestep outmoded curatorial strategies (overloaded walls, indigestible wall text).

How the White Cube Came to Dominate the Art World

One idea that she is developing are rest areas, or “palate cleansers,” that will allow visitors a respite from sensory stimulation, much like the intermission in a play.

The implicit aim of the museum’s neuroscience initiative, made possible by a $130,000 grant from the Boston-based Barr Foundation, is to boost the institution’s relevance at a time of declining attendance across the museum landscape. A 2015 study by the National Endowment for the Arts presented a startling number: Only 21 percent of adults in the United States visited a museum or gallery in 2012, a drop of 5.5 percent from 2002. While the Peabody Essex Museum has defied this trend—over the same period, attendance at the museum has risen steadily—it is nonetheless attuned to the plight of the museum sector as a whole.

“The loss of attendance leaves one to ask, ‘What are the dynamics that are causing this?’” said Monroe. “The strategies and practices that we, as a field, continue to employ are not very effective and, in my view, never will be—they do not recognize the way that people’s brains works.

“That said, we have to all recognize that neuroscience is in its infancy. Nobody understands, for example, how consciousness is created or even what it is.…Ultimately, the deciding factor will be whether or not we’re able to demonstrate that, by better understanding some key elements of the way our brains work, we can create experiences that more people find meaningful and impactful.”

  • Bosoma Dance Company perform in “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture’ at the Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Swong95765, via Flickr.

  • Bosoma Dance Company perform in “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture’ at the Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Swong95765, via Flickr.

Asher arrived at the Peabody Essex Museum almost by happenstance, dashing off a cover letter to the museum when an advertisement for the position was circulated on an internal listserv. Raised in Washington, D.C., she remembers “falling over” after seeing Claude Monet’s haystacks at the Art Institute of Chicago but ultimately dedicated herself to the sciences, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Swarthmore College and later a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences program, where she investigated the linkage between aggression in male mice and serotonin-producing neurons. Her role at the Peabody Essex Museum is that of a benign disruptor, evaluating the format of forthcoming exhibitions in the context of neural pathways. “People seem to appreciate that I’m a little bit of an outsider,” she said.

Having a scientist on staff might be a new development, but the machinery of vision—and the relationship between sensation and perception—has vexed art lovers for millennia. In Art and Illusion (1960), Ernst Gombrich tells of a Pythagorean sage who, upon considering the case of a cloud that resembles a centaur or stag antelope, surmised that perception is a creative act on the part of the beholder. Or, as Gombrich put it: “What we read into these accidental shapes depends on our capacity to recognize in them things or images we find stored in our minds.” Thus, an image is not an index of the material world but a function of the brain.

“The beholder’s share, as it’s known, is a classic problem in art history,” Eric Kandel told me. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist at Columbia University and author of Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures (2016). “What’s going on in the beholder’s head when he looks at a work of art? This is an ongoing area of research. It’s still in its early stages but potentially quite interesting and, I think, quite important.”

In recent years, Kandel has emerged as an evangelist for interdisciplinary inquiry, taking it upon himself to mend the schism between art and science “by focusing on a common point at which the two cultures can meet and influence each other,” as he writes at the beginning of his book. Nevertheless, some art historians are skeptical of neuroaesthetics, which may at times slip into “a spurious reduction of art to the science of the brain,” as Jonathan Gilmore, currently an Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Baruch College, wrote in 2006.

  • Portrait of Tedi Asher. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.

  • Anila Quayyum Agha, All the Flowers Are for Me, 2017. Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.

“Some art historians are enthusiastic [about neuroaesthetics], and others think it’s ridiculous,” said Kandel. “They say, ‘What does it have to offer? It demeans art to think that it has a biological explanation.’ But they should not worry: Neuroscience is not going to replace an art-historical approach to art; it’s going to supplement and enrich it.

“This is a very interesting experiment on the part of [the Peabody Essex Museum],” Kandel continued. “One of the things that strikes me with many current exhibitions is that they’re too damn large! It’s absolutely exhausting to go through them.”

For her part, Asher is sensitive to the fact that her appointment is a landmark event—but she’s also eager to focus on the business at hand. The challenge before her is to apply lessons from carefully designed experiments in a laboratory setting to the business of running an art museum with more than 300 personnel and an operating budget of $30 million. “The way [my colleagues here] talk about things feels much less structured than in the science world, where it is much more about connecting the dots,” she said. “I feel like there is more fluidity to how things are approached in a museum.”

After our interview, we entered the museum to see Anila Quayyum Agha’s All the Flowers Are for Me, an immersive installation in which the white cube has been converted into a light chamber, with a foliate pattern projected on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Encased in a lemon-colored aureole, Asher expounded on the neurological processes at work in our experience of the installation—and the sensation of being caressed by light.

“Your experience of this installation depends on what it reminds you of,” she said. “When you recall a memory, the regions of your cortex that process different senses become activated. So, if you’re looking at an image of a fur coat, you might feel as though you can touch the fur, and that’s because that part of your brain that would process the tactile experience is becoming activated by the memory.”

“But, of course,” she added, “it’s all in your mind.”

—Christopher Snow Hopkins

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-art-museum-hired-neuroscientist-change-way-art

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The Role of the Campus Museum in an Age of Distributed Education (Repost from Future of Museums Blog)

The Role of the Campus Museum in an Age of Distributed Education

The “future of the campus museum” discussion continues with this guest post by Rebecca Nagy, director of the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, a trustee of the Association of Art Museum Directors and President of the Florida Art Museum Directors Association. Rebecca takes on one of the questions I posed to encourage conversation on the future of the campus museum.
In her initial blog post about the “Campus Art Museums in the 21st Century” report, Elizabeth asked:  “With education increasingly unbundled and distributed, what is the role of museums in creating a sense of place?”
It’s a good question and one that academic museums take seriously, particularly as learning becomes increasingly diffused and digital. With an explosion of online course offerings, many students take classes from the comfort of home at any time of day or night, while others study at satellite campuses or in programs abroad. It’s hard to feel relevant to this cohort of students and it begs a question that stems from Elizabeth’s: Is it important that students experience works of art in person at the museum, or can a virtual experience be equally enriching?
All kinds of museums are grappling with that question and we’re racing to keep up with evolving technologies and the expectations of our audiences. At academic museums we know that students—digital natives—want immediate access to digital images and information on collections, exhibitions and other goings-on.  But will putting more art and information online actually motivate our students to visit their campus museums for meaningful, firsthand experiences of original works of art?
We know people crave authentic first-hand experiences, often in the company of crowds. We know they eschew early voting to experience democracy in action in line on Election Day, shell out big bucks to see favorite musicians on stage, and flock to Broadway to experience live theater. So, other than required class visits and assignments, what draws students to our museums? Although some seek solitary encounters with works of art, for most a greater attraction seems to be the excitement of gathering with friends, the chance to look, share ideas and interpretations, play, laugh, and experience art together. Facebook and Twitter notwithstanding, this kind of interactive experience is not replicated online. All the same, to appeal to students from a range of backgrounds and areas of study, we have to loosen up, be less stuffy, and relinquish some curatorial authority over how art is presented and interpreted. We need to let them participate and get them excited about art and museums during their college years. This way we can inspire them to be life-long museum-goers and arts advocates.
In a conversation of several museum and art administrators at the University of Florida earlier this month, we analyzed statistics showing that engineering students attend visual and performing arts events in greater numbers than students from any other academic discipline. Here at the Harn Museum of Art a recent Art in Engineering night brought out 792 people to celebrate the creativity of engineering students and faculty. They sang, danced, fashioned games for children and showcased their paintings, photographs, race cars, robots and other engineering projects. The engagement of engineers with the arts on campus reflects their inherent interest in creative endeavors. However, their full-on involvement with the museum and other arts venues is encouraged and facilitated by Dean of Engineering Cammy Abernathy, who had art history courses in college and says they changed her life. She and other faculty in her college get it. They know their students’ experiences of visual and performing arts ignite their creativity, leading to better engineering solutions and to products that have aesthetic appeal in a competitive global arena. They want to put the STEAM in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math).
The Harn also has the full support of the University of Florida administration. Last year, we received a great new opportunity to reach students from all academic programs in a common freshman humanities course called “What is the Good Life?” Now more than 7,000 freshmen each year spend time at the Harn grappling with some of the fundamental questions of existence through study of great works of art from around the world. We’re getting them through the door for academic work and they’re coming back for fun, to share experiences with their friends and participate in programming.

Thinking back to those far-flung students accessing images and information about our collections online, they may not be able to visit the art museum on campus all the time. But, we can motivate them to visit other museums, galleries, sculpture gardens or public art installations wherever their studies and careers take them. Academic museums play a special role in shaping citizens who value the transformative power of the visual arts and the role of museums in making art accessible to everyone.

 

(Repost from http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com.es/2012/11/the-role-of-campus-museum-in-age-of.html)

New Master in Design for All and Accessibility in Jaén (Spain)

 

This is the announcement of a new Master course in Design for All and Accessibility at the University of Jaén, in Southern Spain. The good news: The prize for this study program is also very accessible!

 

Nueva edición del Máster en Accesibilidad Universal y Diseño para Todos de la UJA

Gracias al acuerdo que comenzó el pasado año y que se ha vuelto a ratificar para esta segunda edición por Fundación ONCE, Fundación Repsol, Fundación Vodafone España y la Universidad de Jaén, este año se vuelve a celebrar el Máster en Accesibilidad Universal y Diseño para Todos.

El máster tienen 60 ECTS y cuenta con treinta y una plazas con un coste de 400 € por alumno, precio simbólico ya que el coste más elevado se asume gracias a la financiación de las tres fundaciones participantes. Además se dotará de dos medias becas de 200 €.

Este máster está dirigido a Arquitectos y Arquitectos Técnicos, Ingenieros de Caminos Canales y Puertos, Ingenieros Informáticos, Ingenieros Técnicos Industriales, Ingenieros e Ingenieros Técnicos de Obras Públicas, Licenciados en Economía, Administración y Dirección de Empresas o en Ciencias Empresariales, Licenciados en Psicopedagogía, Diplomados en Trabajo Social, Diplomados en Terapia Ocupacional, Turismo, Educación Social y Magisterio. También cuenta con la Mención en Accesibilidad en el Entorno Físico y la Mención en Accesibilidad en las Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación.

El plazo de prescripción es del 1 al 10 de noviembre y el de matrícula del 20 al 27 del mismo mes. Para la selección del alumnado prevalecerá en caso de mayor número de solicitudes que de plazas, la nota media del expediente, estar en paro y la motivación para hacer el máster expresado mediante una carta que se remitirá con la matricula.

Gracias al esfuerzo y trabajo de Yolanda Mª de la Fuente Robles, Catedrática EU Trabajo Social y Servicios Sociales de la UJA, ha sido posible una nueva edición de este Máser que forma a profesionales en Accesibilidad Universal, iniciativa muy necesaria e importante para trabajar desde la base del diseño en todos los ámbitos sociales. Desde el Periódico de la Accesibilidad La Ciudad Accesible, le queremos dar públicamente la enhorabuena por el gran trabajo que está haciendo para favorecer la formación especializada a los futuros profesionales del diseño.

Para más información académica podéis visitar el enlace de la Universidad de Jaén: http://viceees.ujaen.es/files_viceees/2118.pdf