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Snite program fosters deeper appreciation of art

| Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Walking into an art museum comes with a number of feelings: momentary panic, indecision over which sections to visit and the lurking knowledge that the museum closes in three hours. The tickets at some museums cost 20 dollars and it is time to start cramming in artworks in order to make the trip worth it at all. According to Rachel Heisler, assistant curator of education and academic programs at Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art, which unlike other museums people can visit free of charge, the vast amount of options in art museums leads to visitors spending just 15 to 30 seconds looking at individual works of art.

“Museums don’t do well in just showing people one work. We [at the Snite] have about 1000 works on view,” Heisler said. “So all this work and energy goes on by the artist, and by the curators and the museum to even get people here looking and then they walk right past it.”

In an effort to get art viewers to slow down and really look at the work before them, the Snite is encouraging the campus and South Bend community to spend three hours looking at a single work of art over the course of the semester. The program, called Art180, is in its second year.

“This is a way to just kind of slow down and to look and just have that time. As museum educators, we’re trained to look at a work for a long time. The more you look at it, the more stories that come out of it, the more you realize and the more things that you find,” Heisler said. “That gives the work some depth that you didn’t expect after looking at it for just 30 seconds.”

While Heisler does not know of any other art museums or schools with programs like Art180, she said the Snite was inspired to start the program by an art history professor at Harvard who had her class do something similar.

“It really slowed them down to really think and pay attention. It also removes students from the hustle and bustle of walking around campus or the stresses of being in the classroom or cramming in the library,” Heisler said. “It physically made them go look at that work and be indulged by it for a second.” 

The Snite wants to provide a similar opportunity for a larger group of people. While Art180 feels like an individual experience, Heisler said, it provides an opportunity for the community to join in its appreciation for art. At the end of one semester last year, the Snite invited participants to come together to discuss their artworks and how they experienced them.

“I remember in front of one work we had, I think, an astrophysics major, and then we had a labor and delivery nurse from the community, and then we had one of our staff members, partnered with another faculty or staff member on campus,” Heisler said. “So four different people all were pulled into that one image.” 

One of the most interesting parts of Art180, Heisler said, is allowing people to delve into an artwork and think more deeply about it than they usually do. Heisler said she likes to take a visual inventory of the elements in a work of art as her first step. She then revisited each individual item on her inventory in separate visits in her Art180 experience.

“We had this great work called ‘Love is …’ last semester. This student was looking at it and every time she explored what love is in a different realm,” Heisler said. “So love is friendship and love is family and love is hard and love is work. She actually looked at it through these different themes and realms that she was thinking of.” 

Heisler said at one point she got stuck with her artwork and turned to listening to music for inspiration.

“I listened to a playlist that WVFI made for the work that I was looking at,” she said. “That was a great way to just pull my attention back in and start to think about ‘Hmm, why did they choose this music for this object?’” 

WFVI, Notre Dame’s student-run radio station, is partnering with the Snite for a second year to create playlists for the artworks in Art180’s featured exhibition, “Looking at the Stars: Irish Art at the University of Notre Dame.” While Art180 participants can choose any work in the collection, Heisler recommends sticking with the one exhibition in order to facilitate better discussion at the end of the semester and take full advantage of artworks that are not always on display.

Art180 participants design their own time frame, dividing up their three hours in whatever fashion they choose or simply looking at the work for three hours straight. Heisler recommends a “weekly drop in” to get the richest experience from the program.

“I think the biggest thing that we have seen come out of Art180, the most positive reflection, is that people like to step outside of their life for this scheduled time, like it’s their date every week, it’s this task that they enjoy,” Heisler said. 

Ultimately, Art180 seeks to create a richer experience of art than the typical, allowing participants a moment of reflection and bringing artworks closer to participants’ lives, Heisler said.

“We had two students last semester who came in at the same time every Thursday. They spent seven minutes looking at it separately next to each other and then they spent seven minutes talking about it together,” Heisler said. “That repetition was really important to a lot of people, that kind of escaping from Notre Dame life. Once you get into the Snite, it just kind of calms down for a second.”

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