National Portrait Gallery

DC Day 2

What do storytelling and object based learning have in common?

Objects are used to tell stories, and not only one story, but multiple stories. Museums cannot tell stories without objects because objects are the tangible things that make the story interesting and relatable. If people can actually see the object, they can connect with it based on their personal knowledge and background. Today, we learned about object based learning from Judy Landau. Object based learning is a method where a person looks at an object and is guided by a museum educator to describe what they see. After describing what they see questions may arise that dig deeper into the story. For example, there is a small coffee table in front of you. The table is brown, it appears to be made from three pieces of wood, and there is an open area beneath the top. Next, I wonder how the table was made, what is a table of this size used for, who made the table? These questions create a story related to the object. Object based learning must be learned, but the knowledge and skills needed to teach it are easily accessible. This method is based on knowing basic information about an object, having inquiry and critical thinking skills, and good communication (see Figure 1). Object based learning is a way to get people thinking about objects in a different way.

object based learning
Figure 1: Object based learning as discussed with Judy Landau

Storytelling in museums begin with one object or theme. Today, we visited the National Portrait Gallery, and created a story based on two completely different objects. Using those objects, in groups of two, we constructed a story that connected two unrelated objects. My partner and I created a story based on a painting of Katy Perry and a photograph of Jack Dempsey. These people are from different time periods and backgrounds, yet we could create a story using the context around the objects and our imagination. Of course, this exercise may seem a bit silly, but it is a great example of how objects are the center of a story and are integral to expanding beyond the visual.

cupcake katy
“Cupcake Katy” Artist: Will Cotton