Teaching art history to high school students; one step at a time

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Editor’s note, Nov. 2, 10:30 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout.

Lauren Janicki, an SMU senior with a major in art history, taught 26 high school students a trick about feet on Thursday.

“You can tell who took a sculpture down. If they’re Roman or Venetian, based on whether their feet are missing,” Janicki said, “When Roman’s took down a sculpture they took down the whole form, but when Venetians took down a sculpture they would pull it down from around the ankles and so the feet went missing.”

Janicki, along with two other SMU undergraduate students, gave 15 minute lectures at the SMU Art History Student Gallery Talks at the Meadows Museum. The lectures were a component of a partnership with Meadows School of the Arts, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts in Dallas, and a grant program through Advanced Placement Strategies.

The lecture was one of three lectures given by Meadow’s Art History students who took art history professor Lisa Pon’s Research and Methods class last spring. The students talked to high school students in AP art history. The high school students took notes as the SMU students discussed the purpose, content, and form of a work of art they studied as well as their ideas about the piece.

At the gallery talk, the students discussed a Roman head of Dionysus, Mengs’ Self Portrait, and a Sevres vase.

Janicki as well as Sara Schaffer and Jessica Balli have been working on the project for a semester. Schaffer studied Mengs’ Self Portrait and Balli studied the Sevres vase. The students in Pon’s class wrote a paper on a work of art that came to SMU in the fall as part of the House of Alba collection. Students then volunteered to present their piece to the high school students as part of the Gallery Talks.

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Photo credit: Candice Bolden

“If I had that opportunity it would have helped me prepare for the major; it would have been beneficial to come to a museum and see younger students expressing their love for art,” Balli said.

After the student presentations, there was a reception where the high school students could ask the art history students questions and have refreshments.

Krystal Reed, an art history teacher at Booker T. Washington, believed that the program helped her students experience art in a more refined way.

“The students were able to experience art in a museum setting which is better than just a slide show; they are seeing it and the size as well,” Reed said.

Reed also found it interesting to see college students helping her high school students.

“I found myself asking similar questions like Lauren’s with Greek versus Roman art and it was great to validate my questions and get answers to them,” Fiona Womack, a Booker T. Washington student said.

On the college’s side, Pon thinks the interaction with the high schoolers helped her students as well.

“It was very useful to bring in the AP students because they were eager and receptive, and it also gave them a chance to see what an art history major could do,” Pon said.

The Oct. 29 Gallery Talk was the last of the school year, but Meadows and Booker T. Washington both hope to have more in the future.

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