Just Looking? Art, pedagogy & the object lesson in the long 19th century

Day: Friday 6 April


Elena Chestnova (Università della Svizzera Italiana)
Andrea Korda (University of Albert)

Session Abstract

The popularity of object lessons in the 19th century attests to the fact that looking at things was not taken for granted as a straightforward or innate activity. Vision was to be educated. Its formation was embedded in a complex of senses and ‘mental faculties’, which meant that seeing involved more than just the eye; it was both multi-sensorial and multi-dimensional. Looking was not always aimed solely outwards, and the path between the subject and the object was not necessarily a direct line.

This session examines the history of the object lesson – a pedagogical approach that relies on first-hand engagement with artefacts and phenomena – by including contributions that investigate its ‘messy’ instances. The growth of both general and artistic education in the 19th century saw the methodology of learning through things expand into new media, with images increasingly used as learning aids. Teaching activities of artists and historians led to the introduction of object lessons into artistic practices and art historical writing, and in some instances, artworks themselves became object lessons. How can we understand 19th-century object lessons in view of this growing complexity? And what are the implications for our conceptualisation of vision, which indeed ‘has a history’?

Speakers & Papers

Sarah Anne Carter (The Chipstone Foundation and University of Wisconsin-Madison) Picture Lessons: Object teaching and 19th-century visual culture

Lucy Hartley (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor) ‘Pictures for the People,’ or, Lessons in Art and Life

Shana Cooperstein (McGill University) Drawing Lines, Contracting Visual Habits: Félix Ravaisson and learning to see ‘à Coup d’Oeil’

Tamar Kharatishvili (Northwestern University) Learning how to See: Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt and Edward Weston

Rosie Spooner (University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art) Showing and Telling: Object lessons at International World’s Fairs

Ariane Varela Braga (University of Zurich) Learning to ‘See Correctly’: The Architectural Courts at Sydenham as experiments of popular objet lessons?

Nickolas Lambrianou (Birkbeck College, University of London) Matter in the Wrong Place: The object lessons of the granite bowl

Jason Vartikar (Stanford University) Stanford’s Colossal Museum and Transportive Objects in the Stanford Family Collection

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