You may already be familiar with some of the tools in this training and use them in your work. But you will discover how to adapt and modify those tools to reach new audiences. You may even discover that experimenting with these tools enriches the learning experience for all your audiences.
How Do We Access Meaning in Art?
To access completely the meaning of a work of art, all viewers need to understand two things:
1 . the physical presence of the work—the compositional and material elements that comprise style.
2 . the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual power of the work.
A work of art is rarely self-explanatory. To experience and understand a work of art, a viewer needs background information and analysis of the subject matter, artist, materials and techniques, as well as the historical and cultural context.
Art Requires Dialogue
Equally important is the interaction of the viewer with the object. Art requires dialogue—verbal, written, or through art-making. Art enables people to learn about history and culture from multiple perspectives. Art also acts as a catalyst for reflecting on our life experiences.
A Museum's Mission
One aspect of a museum's mission is to create an open environment for this dialogue between work and viewer for all visitors, including people with disabilities. The tools that can provide access to meaning in art for people with visual impairments are, in essence, the same tools required by sighted viewers. For both audiences the tools include: reproductions of works of art (posters, postcards), written texts (labels, brochures, and catalogues), tours, audio guides, lectures, art-making activities, Web materials, sound and dramatic elements, and for school-based experiences, curriculum integration activities.
The diversity of the disabilities community also presents unique challenges and opportunities for the museum's education department and/or accessibility coordinator. A broad range of approaches is necessary when reaching out to this community, such as physical accessibility for people who are blind or wheelchair-users, sign language and captioning for visitors who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, multi-sensory tours for people with developmental disabilities, or telephone and distance-learning classes for people who find it difficult to leave home.
One Universal Fact
Individuals in every audience want equal opportunity to choose how in-depth their dialogue and experience with a work of art will be, and they should be able to access art in as many ways as possible. Through the tools discussed in this tutorial, we can make art more meaningful for everyone.