Before visiting a museum, we ask students to inventory their assumptions about what they expect, even if the institution is a familiar one—to think about where it is, how it sits on the landscape, its relationship to the natural and built environments. This exercise can extend to the museum visit, where we may encourage students to analyze categories such as audience, voice, cultural representation, and aesthetic choices to scaffold close observation of various aspects of the museum experience.
This exercise creates an opportunity for students to become ethnographers of a museum. Asking them to keep a “field journal” of their visit provides a place for them to take notes, sketch, and include other media (where allowed). This journaling exercise can create opportunities for deeper reflection and analysis to occur—sometimes in the gallery, but more often back in the classroom.