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Creative connections

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September 2, 2012

UGA students and faculty utilize the Georgia Museum of Art (GMOA) for research and study. The works of art and archival materials provide endless opportunities for theses and dissertation topics.

Megan Watkins, who recently completed her M.Ed. in art education at the Lamar Dodd School of Art (LDSOA) has been a student docent at GMOA for the past two years. During that time, she became interested in how visitors weave prior knowledge and experiences into their interpretations of works of art in the museum, and she considered how visual artists would respond to the works. For her master's thesis, Watkins combined her interests in studio art, social media and museum education to learn more about how artists visually respond to works of art in a museum setting and how they can develop and discuss ideas about their work using social media.

Working with four master's students in studio art and art education at LDSOA, Watkins designed a study in which students created their own art as responses to works they selected in the museum. Watkins also created weekly assignments that encouraged interactions between the students over a blog in order to examine how their work developed through the inclusion of social media and to understand the students' experiences of the process. According to Watkins, "I wanted to explore how art students at LDSOA could use blogging as a way to connect their studio practices with art in the museum. Similar to a paper journal, keeping a blog is a method of recording thoughts and feelings with images and text. For an art student 'blogging' can be a type of digital sketchbook. Each participant recorded their creative process on a personal blog, and each member of the group could comment or offer feedback on other group members' progress. The idea was to generate an online community of student artists that connected to the museum's mission of education.

The students working with Watkins chose diverse works from GMOA's collection: Radcliffe Bailey's "Seven Steps" (1994), Leo Twiggs' "Georgia II (2008), a Princess Feather pattern quilt dated ca. 1840-60, Myrtice West's "The Book of Daniel Chapter 12" (1997-98) and Charlie Lucas' "Girl with Balloons" (n.d.). During a period of five weeks, the students used the blog as a place to share ideas, new techniques and their thoughts about the works of art they were making and the art in the museum galleries

Watkins stressed the importance of social media for university students and its role in the university art museum because students can continue and build on the experiences in the galleries after their visit. She wrote, "Blogging can extend these experiences from the gallery space as a valuable learning encounter that can be revisited again and again." Watkins found that the blog gave students a space to develop their own works of art by reflecting on both the works of art in the museum and their own personal narratives. It also provided a forum in which they could discuss their ideas with others through writing and visual responses. The works of art from the museum's collection inspired new ideas and experimentation with new techniques, including one student who began working with encaustic techniques after looking at the thick, dripping paint on Bailey's "Seven Steps," and another who explored the symbol of the swastika in Buddhism and her Chinese-American heritage after reflecting on Twigg's "Georgia II" and the Princess Feather pattern quilt.

At the end of this process, Watkins facilitated an informal critique of the works of art the students created next to the works they selected in the galleries. Watkins found that the students' works wove their own backgrounds and ideas with concepts found in the art in the museum. They were not only looking at art in the galleries of the museum, but they were also actively engaged with works and participated in a discussion about the works with each other. Furthermore, their own works of art reflected ideas that developed through their correspondence with each other over the blog and the art from the museum's collection to which their works responded.

Watkins's research outlined how blogs can be used in education as online forums in which students can respond to works of art in the museum's collection through visual and textual media. It also provided an example of how studio art professors can integrate the museum's collection into courses and class assignments and demonstrated how historical and contemporary works of art can inspire students' own creation.