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Track: Inquiry

Many Viewpoints

This journal assignment should demonstrate your ability to:
· Ask questions about different viewpoints about the value or meaning of an artwork.
· Identify experts to help you better understand diverse viewpoints on art.

Getting Started
A viewpoint is the way individuals look at the world because of their experience. Individuals' viewpoints are affected by many things, including their age, ethnicity, gender, culture, education, religion, economic status, political convictions, and much more.

Below is a list of topics about different viewpoints on works of art. Lesson Four introduces a variety of viewpoints on the art of Luis Jiménez.
A. Artist's Intention
B. Art Critic or reviewer's Viewpoint
C. Art Historian's Viewpoint
D. Other Viewpoints ( such as the viewpoint of a patron, community leaders, general public in your community, or any other interested person)

Think about different people who might have different viewpoints about the meaning or value of the artwork you have selected. With an older artwork you may find that people today respond quite differently from people of the time it was made. Or if your artwork has been moved from one culture to another, opinions may differ dramatically. For example in the 16th Century Spanish conquistadors didn't respect ceremonial intentions but valued Incan figures only for their gold content. So they were melted down to make altars, jewelry and coins in Spain. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century European and American explorers collected artifacts from indigenous people all around the world to display in natural history museums.

Click to see a listing of exhibits at the venerable American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where exhibits of "African Peoples" and "Asian Peoples" are listed with exhibits of "Gems and Minerals" and "Mollusks of the World". Today similar objects are sometimes exhibited as art in art museums. Click to visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art . In recent years some art museums have stopped showing Native American artworks made for religious ceremonies because Native Americans complained that they weren't meant for public display.

Think about questions you might ask about each topic to help you better understand the artwork you selected. For example for the first topic:

  • Can I find any comments by the artist about the specific artwork I've selected?
  • Can I find comments by the artist about similar work or a general statement s/he has made about his/her art?
  • If the artist is unknown, what can I learn in general about craftspeople, artists, or artisans within the culture or era in which my artwork was made?

Once you have selected a topic (other than A) to write about in your journal, think about who in art has knowledge and experience about this topic. Different art experts understand art in different ways. Click to read descriptions of what various art experts do. You can learn a lot from experts if you ask specific questions about the things they know best.

For example if the artist is available, you might ask why s/he chose the particular subject matter, or why s/he organized shapes and colors in a certain way, or whether s/he has a particular goal in mind. In the case of a public artwork, you might ask the arts administrator responsible for the work, whether the artist submitted a proposal-perhaps even with sketches or diagrams-and whether the arts organization set any guidelines. For older artworks, you might ask an art historian whether there is any record of the artist's intentions or perhaps correspondence between the artist and a patron.

Click to read a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo, and to view the artworks he discusses.

Click to view artworks by Michelangelo. The Pope commissioned the sculptor to make figures for his tomb, which was never completed. Correspondence reveals that the Pope's wishes won out over the sculptor's intentions, when he insisted that Michelangelo work for years painting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, even though the sculptor preferred to work as a sculptor.

Now think about whether there is someone outside art who has experience or knowledge about the topic you selected. Click to read descriptions of what experts in a variety of disciplines do. The list names only experts used in this program. Of course there are others, including psychologists, mechanics, physicians, lawyers, athletes, musicians, and many more who can bring different perspectives to the topic Again, you can learn a lot from experts if you ask specific questions about the things they know best.

For example if you know some biographical information about the artist, you might ask a sociologist what educational opportunities, occupations, values, beliefs, and the like were available for people in the artist's socio-economic class, subculture, or other identity group. You might ask an historian about the major political, religious, and economic beliefs of the culture in which you artwork was made. Such background information can help you better understand the context within which the artist's intentions grew.

Choose one of the topics (not A) to write about in your journal.

Think of a question related to the topic that you believe an art expert might be able to help you answer.
Think of a question related to the topic that you believe an expert outside art might help you answer.

I included:

  1. The topic I selected (B,C, or D)
  2. My ideas about the topic
  3. A specific type of art expert who might guide my inquiry
  4. A question related to this topic for an art expert
  5. A type of non-art expert who might guide my inquiry
  6. A question related to the topic for a non-art expert
  7. Any other thoughts I have about different viewpoints on the meaning and value of the artwork I selected.

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