Inquiry Questions at the Guggenheim Museum

This fall, our Art in Education 1 class visited the Guggenheim Museum on East 89th Street and Fifth Avenue.  The students in my class have been learning about “inquiry”, an approach to discussing art through questions and dialogue.  This trip was a chance to put our inquiry work into practice.

This was the first visit to the Guggenheim for many of the students, so we initially explored the architecture of the museum as well as its permanent collection.  We also viewed some contemporary pieces:  an installation of 100,000 dollar bills by Hans-Peter Feldmann, and work by artist Lee Ufan.

I asked the students to team up in groups of three and select art to discuss.  Each group had to prepare three questions about the artwork and begin a dialogue with the class.

Creating ideal questions can be challenging. We discovered that open-ended questions spark the best conversations: those are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer but instead require close-looking or personal interpretation.  We also talked about how asking one good open-ended question can lead to more questions and a richer conversation.  Alyson Luck from the Education Department at the Guggenheim joined us and gave the class feedback on the questions that they presented.

Our class selected a variety of artwork about which to talk.  Some focused on paintings and others focused on sculpture or installations.  We tried to create questions that we would ask to a class of young students. Our questions often required students to think about details in an image and choices that the artist made:

What do you think this man might be looking at?

Where might this man be?

How do you think the man is feeling?  What details in the painting tell you that?

One of most successful inquiry discussions came from looking at a piece by Lee Ufan.  A team of students asked a series of questions about the work – a stone and piece of metal with a cracked piece of glass – to spark a dialogue.  We found that one particular question made us all think more closely about the piece and its layers of meaning:

“Which of the elements – glass, stone, or metal – is most like you?  Why?”

Great question.  I’m still thinking about my answer to that one…

Jeff Hopkins, Adjunct Lecturer


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