Many people may not think that of an art museum as the ideal field trip location for a group of children with visual impairment, but when the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) contacted the DMA earlier this summer with such a tour request, we were eager to provide the best experience possible. When discussing the visit with vision teachers at DISD, they felt it was important to expose their students to art and wanted an experience that would illustrate to the students that they too have the ability to create and appreciate art just as well as any other student.
The Planning Process
The Dallas Museum of Art has never before offered guided touch tours to visitors with visual impairment, but after speaking with our Director of Exhibition Design, we learned that she fully supports inclusive gallery teaching, and thus was open to supporting the Museum’s first ever touch tour. We talked with our colleagues in the exhibitions and conservation departments and found that they too were fully supportive of trying out a touch tour with the DISD students. The DMA Sculpture Garden was identified as the best place for our inaugural touch tour, since the objects in the garden are designed for an outdoor space and are thus subject to (and able to withstand) a variety of natural elements. We also felt that it was essential for the students to have the galleries to themselves during the tour, so as not to confuse other visitors about the acceptability of touching works of art, as well as for the overall comfort of the students with vision impairment. We therefore decided to schedule the touch tour for a Monday, when the Museum is closed to the public.
Our next step in the planning process was to walk through the space as a group, making note of areas that may be problematic for someone with vision impairment to navigate. The team was comprised of education, conservation, and exhibitions staff, and everyone on the team raised thoughtful questions and contributed wonderful ideas! We discussed which works of art may be the best for a tactile experience, and our conservators suggested that the kids have the chance to touch the works of art without gloves (which is usually unheard of in other touch tours!). Our exhibitions team offered to wash and hand-clean the works we selected so that they would be nice and clean for the experience. And one conservator suggested we select works of art that were large enough to be touched by more than one student at a time, so that the students could talk to one another about what they felt as they each touched the artwork.
After squaring things away with the exhibitions and conservation teams, the education team began planning the educational experiences of the tour. We prepared for twenty-five students, ranging in age from six to thirteen years, all with a range of visual impairment. The majority of students in the group had some residual vision, while two students were very photophobic, and two were blind from birth. Due to the range of abilities of our tour group, our education team knew it was important to include a variety of artworks in the tour (in addition to those on the touch tour), integrate many descriptive explanations of works of art and hands-on activities, and to have numerous tactile objects available.
In the Galleries
When designing the overall tour, we selected a variety of objects that spanned time periods, artistic techniques, and geographic locations. We visited two contemporary art sculptures in the Sculpture Garden for the touch portion, two Abstract Expressionist works in the contemporary gallery, and a mask in the African gallery. Our aim was to engage all of the senses throughout our tour, as we believe that presenting multiple representations of content would effectively cater to the different learning styles of the group. We created a multi-modal experience by collecting auditory clips for sound stimulation, tactile materials and replica objects for touch, Jelly Belly jelly beans for taste sensations, and essential oils and scented colored pencils for olfactory information.
Each stop on the tour had a visual description of the gallery space and of the works of art we focused on, because it was important for us to situate ourselves, the children, and the art in space, as the sense of bodily awareness in space is something that many people without vision impairment may take for granted. Much of our time in the galleries was spent guiding students in tactile looking activities connected to specific works of art and facilitating conversations about texture and form. For instance, we created a reproduction of Jasper John’s Device so that the students could not only touch canvas and feel layers of paint, but they could also replicate moving the wooden stretchers back and forth across the canvas, while imagining the technique in which Johns spread the paint back and forth.
In the African galleries, we focused on a helmet mask made by the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and passed around raffia, cowrie shells, feathers and other materials found in the mask. Additionally, we played sound clips of the various animals that related to the mask.
Relating to Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 29, we discussed how an artist could depict a place using sounds, smells, and taste. The students each ate a jelly bean and imagined the color they believed the flavor might represent. Next, they used a scented colored pencil to illustrate a place based on that smell. We also played sound clips of ocean waves and boat horns to recreate the Santa Monica locale that inspired Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series.
Our tour concluded with a sensory drawing activity that took place at the large fountain outside the Museum’s Flora Street entrance. The students listened to the sounds created by the water in the fountain, and considered how the water (and space around it) might appear, what color the water would be, even how the smell would be rendered. We gave each student a piece of thin Styrofoam and a pencil to create their drawing of the fountain; the students were able to feel the indented lines they drew onto the Styrofoam and took turns sharing their creations with one another.
Until Next Time
This was an exceptional experience for DISD students, teachers, and DMA staff alike. One teacher who helped to organize this visit said that this experience “might be the only time this whole summer [the students] get this opportunity to learn tactually, through their auditory channels and their residual vision, which sighted people take so much for granted.” It was a transformative experience as well for our Museum. We are honored to have been a part of this experience, and cannot celebrate enough the fantastic support and collaboration exhibited by DMA staff from many different departments. A huge thank you to DISD for bringing their students, and a thousand thank you’s to the DMA’s conservation, exhibitions, visitor services, and security teams. This was a team effort and we appreciate the unified support and assistance—let’s hope this is the first of many touch tours to come!
Head of Family, Access, and School Experiences
I am delighted to introduce you to baby Rhys Amann Coffey, born to Sarah and her husband Todd. Rhys made his debut on June 9 at 12:57 p.m., weighing in at five pounds and twelve ounces. Mom, dad, and baby are happy and healthy. We will miss Sarah while she is on maternity leave, but can’t blame her for wanting to spend as much time as possible with this handsome little guy.
C3 Gallery Manager
Surrealism is typically regarded as an art movement dedicated to personal exploration by tapping into a person’s subconscious. This was certainly an important component, but Surrealism was also focused on group activity, ranging from the creation of Surrealist journals, to collectively written statements, to unfettered discovery through group play and games.
Many of the games the Surrealists played together were derived from the types of parlor games they learned as children or still enjoyed as leisure. Such activities, while fun, were also meant to spur creativity and subvert the psychological conditioning of society. Sometimes these games resulted in finished works of Surrealist art and writing. As the movement’s self-proclaimed leader, André Breton, described their game playing in 1954: “Although as a defensive measure we sometimes described such activity as ‘experimental’ we were looking to it primarily for entertainment, and those rewarding discoveries it yielded in relation to knowledge only came later. [...] It is clear that to shut oneself off from game-playing [...] is to undermine the best of one’s own humanity.” (Brotchie and Gooding, 1991, 137-138)
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits for educators using Surrealist games in the classroom is how the activities offer a set of tools to get learners conceptualizing critically and playing with images, words, and ideas where the purpose is surprise, delight, and creativity. For the Surrealists, the fact that games had rules or instructions that mandated how they were played, but the end-goal was itself unstructured, illogical, and messy, was representative of their own world-view.
Let’s briefly explore two games the Surrealists used in group settings that might be fun to apply to classrooms and museum teaching. My descriptions of these games has been adapted from Alastair Brotchie and Mel Gooding’s delightful Book of Surrealist Games (Shambhala Redstone Editions, 1995).
The Exquisite Corpse
Perhaps the best known Surrealist drawing game, the Exquisite Corpse was actually born out of a writing activity. Surrealism’s roots are in writing and poetry; its earliest practitioners and founders were all writers. Games like the Exquisite Corpse (the name is taken from the poetic results of the first game played) were later modified into a visual variant.
Group size: Typically three-to-four players, or any size up to how easily one sheet of paper can be folded.
Instructions: A piece of paper is folded so that the number of creased sections matches the number of players, usually horizontally or in quarters for four players.
The first player takes the folded paper with the top fold exposed and draws anything that comes to mind. (Note: In it’s purest incarnation, as a reference to the name of the game, the players are to base their portions of the drawing on the portions of a human body, but this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule!)
She then extends some of her drawn lines across the fold into the next blank section, and refolds the paper so only the second section is exposed, and the next player cannot see what she drew in the first section.
The re-folded sheet is passed to the second player, who bases his drawing on the few exposed lines provided. After completing his section, he also extends a few of the bottom-most lines across the fold, refolds to hide his portion and expose the next, and passes to the next player.
This process continues until all players have a turn to draw a section, when it is unveiled and unplanned, group-designed drawing is revealed. An added variation involves the last player handing the folded drawing to the first player again, who must conceive of a title before the full drawing is shown.
Outcome: An example of an Exquisite Corpse can be seen above, created by André Breton, Greta Knutson, and Valentine Hugo, where the “head” is a florid, calligraphic design, the “torso” is an hourglass, and the “legs” are heart-footed compasses. The surprising and seemingly unnatural conjunctions of objects in these drawings are similar to the visual juxtapositions presented in many Surrealists’ work. Examples include the René Magritte’s Persian Letters, and Surrealist objects, such the one below by Sonia Mossé, both in the DMA’s collection.
The Game of Variants
This is essentially the traditional “whisper” game of Telephone. The group sits in a circle, and the first person conceives of a phrase, then whispers it to her neighbor. The second person whispers the same sentence to his neighbor, and so on, through the entire group. By the end, the beginning and ending phrases are compared.
Starting Phrase: “You must dye blue the pink bags fathomed by orange parapets.”
Ending Phrase: “At all costs forget the fifth paragraph of ‘Paradise Lost’.”
While not practiced by the Surrealists, I have used a fun visual variant of this game in teaching.
Group Size: Best suited for groups between ten and thirty players.
Instructions: Take a piece of paper and fold it horizontally then vertically in an accordion-style (front-over-back) into quadrants that add up to the number of players. (So, with twenty-five players, fold a typical sheet of paper four times horizontally, then four times vertically.)
Present the folded up paper so only one folded quadrant is visible, then have the first player draw a small simple, linear image.
She then presents the drawing to the next player, who looks at it, folds the paper over to the next blank quadrant, then redraws the image from memory. He then passes his version of the drawing on, and the process is repeated until the last player finishes her drawing.
Once finished, unfold the entire sheet, and marvel at the evolution of the image as it transforms from one recognizable thing into something else altogether!
Outcome: Just as the results of the Telephone game are remarkable for the dissimilarity between starting and ending phrases, the results of this visual variant are similarly startling, but the sheet also becomes a visual record of the transformation of starting image into something else entirely. In the example below completed during a class I taught in 2009, the starting image of a shoe transforms multiple times, into a cigarette and ashtray, a frying pan, a robot, and a bug.
Have you tried using Surrealist games like these in your teaching or for fun? Please leave your experiences and ideas in the comments below!
- Ferdinand Léger, Composition with Tree Trunks, oil on canvas, 1933, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation.
- André Breton, Greta Knutson, Valentine Hugo, Untitled (Exquisite Corpse), Colored pencil on black paper, c. 1929, Private Collection.
- René Magritte, Persian Letters, oil on canvas, 1958, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of J.B. Adoue, III.
- Gaston Paris, Untitled (Mannequin by Sonia Mossé), Gelatin silver print, 1938, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Junior Associates and an anonymous donor.
Brotchie, Alastair and Mel Gooding. A Book of Surrealist Games. Boston & London: Shambhala Redstone Editions, 1995.
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs
Art is often a reflection of a society’s culture; it can range from an artist’s response to a specific experience, to a cultural relic born out of a particular time and place. The Dallas Museum of Art’s collection represents cultures from every continent over the last 5,000 years. Help us explore the diversity within North Texas by sharing your photographs that capture culture.
Upload your photographs here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/dmaculture
Click here for guidelines and more information.
Submitted photos will be on view in the DMA’s Center for Creative Connections starting in July.
C3 Gallery Coordinator
This edition of Artist Astrology features one of the DMA’s most beloved Gemini artists, Mary Cassatt (May 25th). Gemini’s are born between May 22nd and June 21st. They are typically categorized as multi-talented, scattered, talkative, and social. Communication is one of the strongest traits of a Gemini, and they may use this skill to clearly express their ideas and opinions. On the other hand, Gemini’s are very versatile and their companions may not be able to keep up with their often-scattered interests. Because of this adaptability, Gemini’s have an easy time making friends. The danger in this behavior may be overexertion and difficulty with time management. Gemini’s constant variety helps them maintain a fun-loving and youthful attitude throughout their lives.
Mary Cassatt – May 25th
Mary Cassatt did not let anything stop her from pursing her dream, despite many obstacles. Raised in a wealthy family, she was educated according to the typical duties expected of a woman of the time, primarily those aimed at becoming a proper wife. Cassatt, however, realized that this was not her passion and enrolled in art school at age sixteen. Unfulfilled by the curriculum, she left for Europe in 1866 in order to study from the Old Masters firsthand. Her family did not support this decision, and she was forced to pay for her materials and training independently.
As is characteristic of the social Gemini, her career was highly impacted by her relationships, especially that of Edgar Degas. Degas advised Cassatt to pursue her own artistic direction and, after doing so, eleven of Cassatt’s paintings were included in the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879. The exhibition was hugely successful and helped to launch Cassatt’s career. Her work, often focused around women and children in domestic settings, was praised for its objectivity and honesty. Cassatt would continue to play an influential role in the Impressionist movement throughout the late 1800s.
McDermott Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching
With school out, Go van Gogh volunteers are spending their days in the community, visiting recreation centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, and libraries with art-making programs. Summer programs are casual, always fun, and sometimes a little wild…in the best possible way!
We’re embracing summertime wildness in all its glory this year, with a new Go van Gogh outreach program called Into the Wild with the DMA. The program was inspired by the children’s book Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, in which a very proper Mr. Tiger, bored with being so proper all the time, decides that he needs to have a little fun; so, he goes wild. Really wild! ROAAAR!!! It’s a story that all of us—kids, especially—can relate to when the summer heat hits.
Into the Wild, which will be offered at Dallas Public libraries through the remainder of June and July, begins with story time and an animal game. We then put on our safari hats and venture into the wild depths of the DMA’s collection, exploring big cats and fierce mythical animals in artworks from the African savanna to the Indonesian jungle.
Our art safari ends with time to reflect and create an artwork inspired by one of our discoveries, the DMA’s Japanese Tiger.
If you’d like to join us on an art safari this summer, upcoming program dates and locations are listed below. Into the Wild is designed for children ages five to nine, but art and animal-lovers of all ages are welcome! Be sure to call the library ahead of time to confirm space availability, as programs are limited to thirty participants.
Tuesday, July 1, 10:30 a.m.
Hampton-Illinois, 2951 South Hampton Road, 75224
Tuesday, July 8, 2:00 p.m.
Dallas West, 2332 Singleton Boulevard, 75212
Tuesday, July 15, 2:00 p.m.
Audelia, 10045 Audelia Road, 75238
Thursday, July 17, 2:30 p.m.
Skillman Southwestern, 5707 Skillman Street, 75206
Tuesday, July 22, 2:00 p.m.
Polk-Wisdom, 7151 Library Lane, 75218
Friday, July 25, 2:00 p.m.
Lochwood, 11221 Lochwood Boulevard, 75218
Tuesday, July 29, 2:00 p.m.
Skyline, 6006 Everglade Road, 75227
Thursday, July 31, 2:00 p.m.
White Rock Hills, 9150 Ferguson Road, 75228
And if you can’t join us at a library, stop by the Museum and use our In the Swim Family Gallery Guide to chart your own summertime animal adventure!
Manager of Go van Gogh and Community Teaching Programs