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The multiple interfaces of engagement: towards a new conception of gallery learning

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Christopher Whitehead, Dr Emma Coffield



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This article re-theorises ‘gallery learning’ through recognising that the significance of the artworks and exhibition for young people is elaborated and remediated over longer periods of time and through multiple ‘interfaces’. Such interfaces include: the artwork and images of it; the gallery and the contingency of gallery events; the school or college; internet websites; social media; mobile applications; an understanding of the self; and other people. This is based on longitudinal research undertaken with 16-20-year-old Further Education students engaged through formal gallery learning programmes with an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, as part of the UK’s Artist Rooms touring programme. We advance a concept of the ‘interface’ as the perceived space of multidirectional, multidimensional and multi-temporal engagement with and through works of art, where this engagement can be productive of diverse knowledges that are not themselves limited to authoritative epistemologies of art. Within these forms of engagement and built into particular interfaces are specific structural conditions and affordances, in Gibson’s sense of specific ‘action possibilities’, that both delimit and potentialise agency and position the actors involved. Unlike much research of this kind, the project takes a view of engagement that is not limited to the event of the museum visit, but rather adopts longitudinal perspectives and methods to understand how, and through what interfaces, young people make sense of and engage with and through, works of art. The article presents new perspectives on how engagement with an art exhibition may connect with other knowledges (personal, local, socio-historical etc.), and what this means in relation to young people’s sense of identity

Publication metadata

Author(s): Whitehead C, Coffield E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Museum and Society

Year: 2018

Volume: 16

Issue: 2

Pages: 240-259

Print publication date: 01/07/2018

Online publication date: 01/07/2018

Acceptance date: 18/07/2018

Date deposited: 02/08/2018

ISSN (electronic): 1479-8360

Publisher: Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester


DOI: 10.29311/mas.v16i2.2371


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