Absorbing The Art Around You

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Residence halls at The University of Texas at Austin offer more than just places for students to sleep, eat and study. They are “transformational learning environments,” according to a news release from the university:

“Schools around the country are working to integrate more art and thought provoking exhibits into their campus environments. Leading that charge here on campus is Floyd Hoelting, executive director of Housing and Food Service, with projects like the groundbreaking Residence Hall Museums.

‘Every room, every lounge should be a learning environment,’ says Hoelting. ‘Each of the museums and galleries provide out-of-class active and passive learning spaces where students see, read, reflect and participate at their own pace based on individual experience.’

The UT-Austin campus is currently home to five Residence Hall Museums, including the Longhorn Art Series spread throughout each of the various residence halls.

Each museum space focuses on a specific theme like the Gallery of Texas Cultures located in Jester Center or the Gallery of Great Texas Women on the first floor of Kinsolving Residence Hall. Rather than being unique destinations, these galleries merge with the same spaces where students live, eat, study and interact every day.

A student may be reading about chemistry, but when they look up from their books they continue to learn about the first inhabitants of Texas, the settlers who followed them or the geography of their state.

A recent study by the Office of Assessment finds that this kind of transformative learning experience leads students to a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. It also promotes curiosity that leads to additional learning.

‘Creating these out-of-class learning environments integrates all of higher education’s resources in the education and preparation of the whole student,’ says Hoelting. ‘Becoming critical, reflective and well-informed transforms individuals to better adapt to any situation or environment they encounter in life.’

Those results are also measured in student success. These kinds of integrated art and cultural installations have a ‘direct, positive effect on student learning, productivity and even stress reduction,’ according to one researcher.”

Hmm. I’m a big believer in the power of situation and setting to influence learning. I wonder how much “learning” is really going on here, however—although surrounding students with thought-provoking images and information can’t hurt and might help.

I do still remember the gorgeous stained-glass window in a campus building, Lindsey-Chittenden Hall, where I took an English class in college. Do you remember any striking artwork or architecture that surrounded you while you learned?

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4 Responses to “Absorbing The Art Around You”

  1. Sure it’s a nice thing. Adding art can’t hurt, could help. But I doubt it is automatic.

    Perhaps a little curation would advance the effort. Add some context. Point to a web site or podcast that elaborates on the art.

    Maybe a QR Code with relevant links so a curious student might easily smarten up on the art and artist….

  2. I do think there’s something valid about creating environments that are rich in content that students can engage with at their leisure. Not all students will do it and most won’t get a complete picture, but learning will take place.

    You could imagine rotating it each week to maintain some novelty as well.

  3. Judy Lundy says:

    Given the influence of positive emotions on learning and the positive emotional response beautiful things can engender this is a logical relationship. With research evidence also linking positive emotions with being connected to the natural world, utilising artwork/photography which depicts nature could be particularly effective (not to mention bringing plants, flowers fish tanks etc. into the environment as well).

  4. Megan jefferson says:

    I do love this : “…this kind of transformative learning experience leads students to a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. It also promotes curiosity that leads to additional learning.” The time to pause, in an environment, is required to instill this sense of wonder and curiosity. I do believe good art does help people be curious.

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