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Community of Learners: Visual Literacy and the Benefits of Engaging with Original Works of Art

Hood Quarterly, autumn/winter 2011-12

Across the country, medical students, police officers, and business executives are spending time in art museums as part of their professional training and development. Engaging with original works of art fosters careful observation and the ability to interpret visual information—skills that are essential to success in all three fields. Indeed,“visual literacy” (the ability to construct meaning from all that we see) is important to all of us.We need to be equipped with the ability to understand and navigate a global culture that now communicates instantly and universally through visual images.

Looking at art can also help us to explore wide-ranging ideas, expand our perspective on our lives, and stimulate creative thinking. The Hood Museum of Art’s diverse collections, which represent cultures from around the globe and date from ancient to contemporary times, present wonderful opportunities for these experiences. To help visitors develop their visual literacy and engage meaningfully with works of art, Hood staff members created the “Learning to Look” technique, a five-step approach designed to help viewers look carefully and think critically about any work of art they encounter. Developed originally in 1993 to equip regional teachers of all grade levels and content areas to integrate art into the curriculum, the Learning to Look technique has proven to be empowering for a much broader audience. It is integral to the lessons and tours offered to the thousands of regional school children who visit the museum annually; it is frequently taught to Dartmouth undergraduates; and adult workshops featuring the technique are presented regularly. For visitors to the Hood who are not participating in one of these programs, the Learning to Look technique is available through the “A Closer Look” brochures located in the galleries. Each brochure focuses on a single work of art and leads viewers through the five steps of the technique.They also include tips on how to practice this looking strategy with other works of art.

We invite you to visit the museum to engage with the art on view and hope that the programs and resources offered will enhance your ability to construct meaning from diverse visual material and heighten your appreciation of the rich human experiences that are communicated through our global collections.

Hood Museum