Learning from Great Art: Lessons from Dresden
TWIG - Featuring over 400 works from European Baroque period collected by August the Strong and his son, August III, during the 17th and 18th centuries, including paintings, porcelain, armour and jewels, "The Glory of Baroque Dresden" in Jackson, Mississippi, is the first exhibition of Dresden art in the United States in nearly 25 years.
In an essay excerpted from www.washingtoninternational.com, TWIG contributor Kathyrn Gest says that the show is paying unique dividends for Mississippi's school children.
A group of pre-schoolers from Jackson, Mississippi, recently took a make-believe flight to Dresden, Germany, complete with passports and German snacks. The "excursion" was one in a series of activities to prepare them to see, and appreciate, the world-class artworks from the State Art Collections of Dresden that are on view in Jackson through Sept. 6.
To get ready, the children and their teachers from the non-sectarian Beth Israel Preschool made use of detailed student and teacher guides distributed throughout the state with the aim of ensuring that a real visit to the exhibit, "The Glory of Baroque Dresden," would be more than just a forgettable field trip.
Their preparation included listening to Bach and Beethoven, learning German words, studying German fairy tales, and spending several days poring over the pictures of paintings, porcelains and other artifacts displayed in the student guide.
The result was an impressive display of recognition from the 4- to 6-year-olds of what they were looking at when they finally arrived at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion.
Their reaction fulfilled one of the goals of Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, which organized the exhibit. "Education and cultural enrichment is the pre-eminent objective of our organization," he said. "When a person comes here and is exposed to great art, it becomes a part of them throughout their life. It gives knowledge, refinement and enlightenment that makes them better and richer individuals."
Kyle said a major aim is to provide cultural experiences to those who could not visit the great museums of the world on their own. The Dresden exhibit is the fourth in a series that began in 1996 and has featured art from St. Petersburg, Versailles and Spain.
An indication of Germany's commitment to that goal was the visit of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Jackson at the end of February to officially open the exhibit.
A key to the learning experience is the exhibit guides. They went to each of Mississippi's 550,000 public, private and parochial school pupils. Some 40,000 more-detailed manuals went to their teachers. The guides were created by University of Southern Mississippi faculty members with financial support from state government and private sources. Copies also have been distributed to students and teachers in surrounding states.
The guides begin with historical information about Dresden and Germany, and focus heavily on the art in the exhibit. But they also have a section on Germany and America from 1683 to the present. They include information on German sports, holidays, language and German-American heritage, including recognition of well known émigrés, such as Levi Strauss, who created the first pair of blue jeans, and space scientist Wernher von Braun.
One challenge was ensuring that the guides would be useful to students of different ages.
"This is an exhibition for everyone and includes things these children may never see again," said Marilyn Foxworth, director of the World Class Teaching Program at the university who was involved in writing the guides. "We tried to make the educational materials as friendly as we could. You remember your first symphony or first exhibition. I have a feeling that as they grow older…these will be things that are measurable."
There also were other goals, including updating views of Germany. She noted a certain "tunnel vision," where the knowledge of students and their parents stops after World War II. Including information on present day Germany worked to counter that.
In addition to the guides, there were other incentives to bring more students to the museum. Ten Mississippi teachers will get a free trip to Dresden. To be eligible for the drawing, they must have attended one of 11 teacher training workshops held throughout the state in January, use the teacher guide as part of their curriculum, and bring at least 20 students to see the exhibit. And to bring in even more students, another drawing will be held to award $25,000 to the visual and performing arts programs in one Mississippi school. To qualify, a school must book at least 400 students or adults into the exhibit.
"We want every student in the state to be exposed," said
Kyle. "Education is the most important thing that we do."
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