Medical Students at the Art Museum

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on March 28th, 2018

On Monday, March 19, twenty-three first-year students from the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Central Wisconsin campus visited the Woodson Art Museum. Their visit marks the school’s second annual trip to the Museum, which aims to hone students’ observational and communication skills using artwork on view as a launching pad for critical thinking and conversation. To make their visit as engaging and dynamic as possible, we elected to intersperse their four-hour visit with a range of interactive exercises and hands-on art making.

Students began with a “visual warm-up” in the Museum’s On the Wing gallery, identifying artworks that “spoke to them,” and sharing their impressions with the group. Next up, Museum director Kathy Foley introduced Visual Thinking Strategies and led the students in a visual analysis of various artworks (my favorite was George Tooker’s painting The Subway) using open-ended questions. Museum educator Lisa Hoffman presented Eric Rohmann’s illustrations, which prepared students for creative mark making during a relief-printing activity in the Museum’s classroom.

While their fresh prints dried on the rack, we headed to the Rarely Seen galleries, where the group tried visual analysis techniques on National Geographic photographs. By identifying key principles of design, we discussed which compositions made our favorite photographs successful and intriguing. The students grouped into pairs to take a closer look at the photographs, taking turns dissecting the visual elements and artwork designs.

This was the first phase of the partners’ quest; awaiting them in the lower level were twelve French easels, set up for their most challenging (and, based on their feedback, rewarding) activity of the day. Borrowing an exercise from Penn State’s College of Medicine, we asked pairs of students to re-create postcard-sized images of Impressionist paintings using chalk pastels. The catch? One student was tasked with drawing without seeing the reference image held by the partner standing behind and describing it. Students relied on open-ended questions and detailed visual descriptions to develop an effective dialogue with their partner, who needed to help them visualize and understand something they could not experience.

Museum staff were thrilled by the open, enthusiastic attitudes of the students, who leapt out of their comfort zones and tackled this co-painting activity with excellent results. After working for about fifteen minutes, the pairs switched roles and artwork images; round one was dedicated to landscapes, while round two focused on still-life paintings. After the second round, students proudly placed their pastel artworks alongside the artwork images they re-created; see their impressive results below.

Staff assessed the visit as a success. A mutual sense of accomplishment was bolstered by the positive feedback we received from the students during the wrap-up conversation. Students noted how much they appreciated the variety of interactive exercises and opportunities to explore their own creativity. Students also commented on the connection between their time at the Museum and their future work as physicians.

We’re grateful to the Medical College of Wisconsin for this partnership and to the students for making this year’s visit such a rewarding experience. The Woodson team is already looking forward to next year’s visit.

To learn more about partnerships between art museums and medical schools, check out some of the pre-visit reading materials shared with students and faculty to help prepare them for their visit:

Why Med Schools Are Requiring Art Classes

Study Finds Med Students Who Make Time for Art Have More Empathy

Much like the medical students, I appreciate diversity in my daily routine. Lucky for me, next week will be filled with exciting programs and school visits during guest artist and author Eric Rohmann’s residency. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch with your creative side or you need a break from life’s daily demands, treat yourself with a Woodson Art Museum visit by participating in one of Eric’s public programs next week.

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