The Value of Exhibition

Ah, the blank walls of a gallery… as exciting, intimidating, and wrought with potential as a blank canvas or an empty page.

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Whether your blank wall is freshly painted in a professional gallery  or a staple riddled bulletin board in your school, art teachers know the value and importance of exhibition. Well, great news art teachers, the rest of the educational community values it too! They may not know it, so let me be a little more explicit.

Artmaking is all about communicating. Artists communicate ideas through a visual language that is infinitely complex and subtle. At no time is this communication more active than when artwork is put on display for an audience.

Displaying artwork for the public is an authentic, real-world act. In many classes, students spend countless hours creating products for school that are rarely seen by anyone other than the teacher or their classmates, but artworks and other creative products are intended to be shared with a broader audience, to share the message the artist wishes to communicate and to accept reaction, even criticism from the world at large.

Critical thinking is applied to selecting and arranging artworks in an exhibition. Many art teachers take advantage of this teaching opportunity and have students play a part in the decision making. This may be as simple as having elementary students select their best work of art, to something as complex as having advanced high school art students select, organize, assemble, and label a body of work for a solo show.

Exhibition also affords an opportunity for both the artist and teacher to reflect on successes, challenges, and the learning that has occurred. This is also a time to celebrate!

Communication, critical thinking, authenticity, reflection, celebration… These are all important goals educators strive for in their schools and classrooms, and all of these are a part of exhibiting artwork.

As it happens, this week we installed one of my favorite exhibitions of the year. We refer to it, fondly, as the Artist Teacher Exhibition. This is a juried show made up entirely of original artwork by art teachers in my district. I will post again near the time of our reception on November 15, but here’s a sneak peak of a couple walls before installation was complete:

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