Department of Art and Art History Visual Art Studies

Visual Art Studies Student Julia Caswell Competing in University-Wide Undergraduate Research Showdown

Fri. October 14, 2016

two viewers in a gallery listening to an audio guide and raising hands
By virtue of its pioneering experimentation with digital technologies, museum education has moved out from the periphery of conversations in education. Here at The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Art and Art History, our Visual Art Studies undergraduates are given the resources and the mentorship to think big in terms of digital technology and the museum experience. Visual Art Studies senior Julia Caswell’s experience is a case study for what can be accomplished. Caswell is currently participating in the Texas Undergraduate Research Showdown, presenting her research into new strategies for digital engagement for museums through audio walks.


Be sure to check out Julia’s project and VOTE for her research to advance to the final round!

“Research plays an important role in the undergraduate Visual Art Studies (VAS) program,” writes assistant chair of the Art Education program Dr. Christina Bain. “Since our field examines questions that generally focus on people, learning, and creativity, qualitative research methodologies are well suited for this type of field-based research. VAS students have multiple opportunities to practice research strategies during their coursework and participate in the Undergraduate Research Showcase annually.”

We decided to interview Caswell to find out more. Interview conducted over email.


Could you explain a little bit about your project for Undergraduate Studies Texas Research Showdown?

Julia Caswell: My participation in the Undergraduate Studies Texas Research Showdown is bounded by two objectives. First, the competition’s video requirement asks students to explain their creative research to a general audience. Within the competition format, other students on campus can vote on their favorite entries in the competition and the top six applicants—three voted in by popular vote and three selected by a panel of UT judges—are invited to present their work to a live audience at the final round on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Secondly, my objective going into this project and this research was to investigate systematically how audio walks were designed, implemented as educational programs and studied in a museum setting. Which meant that, while interning as the School Groups Program Intern at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, I proactively developed an audio walk. An audio walk is a digital program that you can use in an app-format that gives you interactive information to create an immersive experience with the work in the Cynthia C. Wainwright gallery. The design is meant to encourage engagement while directing viewers through the gallery, introduce children and their families to contemporary art, and utilize inquiry-based questions in the development of higher-level thinking, all while being easy-to-use and fun.

The implementation and testing were developed for the Children’s Museum of the Arts with their unique space and mission in mind. This is an idea I came up with while considering the needs of all the museum’s stakeholders, including the curators, administrators, teaching artists, art educators and most importantly the museum’s patrons. The museum was very open to the different avenues we could take with incorporating audio into their programming. With their willingness to try something new, I was able to create something that I feel really innovates and expands on best practices for education around contemporary art. 

What theoretical lens informed this project?

Some of the theory I was looking at was associated with engagement and experience. Similar to stories, audio walks have the enduring ability to capture one’s attention and engage it uniquely. Husserl and Bachelard’s conceptions of phenomenology play a role in this research and practice, specifically when we refer to reflection, first-person perspective and the kind of immediate reach of “the poetic image when it emerges into the consciousness as a direct product of the heart, soul and being of man, apprehended in his actuality" (Bachelard, 1964).

But also, I was looking at contemporary Canadian audio walk artist, Janet Cardiff and her understanding of phenomenology as connected to “user’s experience.” Cardiff uses simple and straightforward “technology to create a complex, virtual reality in which the 'real' becomes inseparable from the virtual” (Sohal, 2006, p. 73).


What other previous experiences have you had that led you to this field and this research?

It is hard to tell, at this point, what led me to this field and research. You know the old debate, which came first the chicken or the egg? I think the egg, for me, always comes before the chicken. I often have fully-formed pictures in my head and really just need others to enact them to make them real.

One experience that led me to this field and research was my involvement in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Graduate School Internship last semester. My graduate mentor, Allison Clark, who now works in education at the Getty museum, worked with me on a multi-directional mentorship that engaged my passions. We crafted a syllabus and had a conversation in her office once a week. This informed everything I do and I am so thankful for this experience.

I can remember, after a reading about art and technology for a Visual Art Studies class and then having a conversation within a philosophy and criticism course, asking myself and my class, “How are we preparing future students?” It's not just technology as hardware anymore, it’s culture. It’s the way we communicate with one another and the environment that communication creates. For an educator, that becomes a question about the way we teach. So the question behind my research became: What drives today’s students to participate in educationally purposeful activities? What I found was an emphasis on personalized experience among new technologies. The experience of an audio walk is immersive and engaging. Audio walks challenge the user's sense of ordinary. Although an audio walk can be administered as a group, the emphasis of personal cognition is a dynamic tool audio walks employ. As a result, students feel a personal sense of relevance with the curriculum.


In the video, you describe a gap between theory and practice in contemporary museum education. Could you explain?

I think the field of art education is always trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice. My research is in response to what I observed in this particular museum. Twenty first century skills such as problem solving, creativity and communication play a huge role in what art educators do. In conversation with those I had the privilege to work with at CMA, I realized there was a gap between the theories contemporary art draws upon and the actual engagement of the visitors. They were having different conversations entirely. The educator and/or the art historian is normally the filler of that gap, whether by leading tours, programming or holding guided discussions of the work. But I wanted to take it a step further beyond the traditional didactic texts that accompany works in a museum. Audio walks can be a combination of the sound from the actual surroundings overlaid with sounds from past experiences, movie soundtracks, musical instruments, narrative, etc. Audio walks allow the viewer to embody the experience in a variety of ways and not only receive information. 
Additionally, the audio walk employs gamification as an engagement strategy. In the development of the audio walk, I used game-design elements and game-principles. Even something as simple as asking a young user to find all of the basketball hoops in a painting, can significantly increase the level of engagement with the work. At its heart, this research suggests the possibilities of reaching contemporary youth learners who are adept at technology and giving them a platform for learning through personal relevance. 


Visual Art Studies students intern across the world, from San Marcos and Austin to New York and Italy

Mon. September 5, 2016


Work from students at Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos
Work from students at Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos

Junior Tanya Gantiva and Senior Paulina Dosal-Terminel, Visual Art Students undergraduates, worked at the Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos. Gantiva and Dosal-Terminel interned as art directors for the institute’s free summer camp for youth. As a part of the Indigenous Cultures Institute’s mission to research and preserve indigenous culture, the summer camp offers youth a chance to learn about indigenous arts and their indigenous identities through hands-on workshops and projects.

“The whole process was such an incredible learning experience for me as an educator, artist and human being,” Paulina Dosal-Terminel writes. “Teaching art using indigenous methods, as well as working with a group of extremely talented individuals to guide students' on a path of learning that is both encouraging of individuality and conscious of the collective home we all share, really opened my eyes to how art is present in every moment of our lives.”

Madi Beavers (Visual Art Studies, 2018) interned at The Contemporary in Austin, working with the museum’s teen program. Over the course of the summer, Beavers learned the ins and outs of writing teacher materials and designing educational initiatives tailored toward a teen demographic. Ultimately, Beavers and her team of high school students created inventive zines as a product of their experiments, discussion and experience.

Julia Caswell at CMA
Julia Caswell at CMA

Julia Caswell (Visual Art Studies, 2017) had a fantastic summer internship as a School Programs Intern for The Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York (CMA). Working in collaboration with other nonprofits and arts organizations in New York, Caswell facilitated art-making inspired by interdisciplinary themes of CMA exhibits. Her work on a public art mural project is highlighted on the Children’s Museum of Art’s website.


Lastly, Visual Art Studies students traveled to Italy with Art History professor Dr. Ann Johns and made a brave journey to see Christo’s Floating Piers.

Through these internships, Visual Art Studies students are given the opportunity to practice pedagogy in the field, exploring the connections between trends in visual arts and contemporary art education.

Alumni Spotlight: Meet Karen Cervantes, BFA in Visual Art Studies, 2013

Fri. March 27, 2015

woman in black shirt posing for portrait in front of dark back drop

Karen Cervantes (BFA in Visual Art Studies, 2013) teaches at Zavala Elementary School in Austin, Texas.

Professor Christina Bain: What has surprised you about teaching these past few years?

Karen Cervantes: The students’ engagement is crucial to the whole art lesson. The more engaged they are, the better the effort in their work and the more meaning they add to their artwork. I’m surprised at how well I’ve learned to think on my feet because no matter how organized and planned I’ve been, something unexpected always comes up like fire drills, paint spills or never-ending waiting time. Also, the environment in the art classroom is completely different from the students’ regular classrooms and I’ve been learning to embrace the differences. It’s okay to have an organized “chaotic” art class.


CB: What aspects of the program at UT Austin most prepared you for post-grad life?

KC: My art education classes completely changed my perspective on how to view art and its significance in our society. Art can be an educational tool, a voice, an opinion... not just a hobby. Elementary students can be taught about big ideas such as social justice, identity, and culture. Elementary art doesn’t just have to be the basics of art or cookie-cutter art; it can be full of meaning and importance too. My passion for art and for teaching has grown and it’s all thanks to my amazing and unforgettable professors Dr. Christina Bain, Dr. Paul Bolin and Dr. Kara Hallmark.  

CB:   What advice would you give to graduating students?

KC: Once you’ve landed the job, building your classroom environment is completely on you. I did not want to emphasize my classroom rules my first year and mid-year, I was having a ton of behavior problems. Lesson learned. You can still be the cool hip art teacher but with some cool hip structure in the classroom. As a second year teacher, I take advice from veteran teachers all the time and one I keep hearing is to be consistent with your consequences. Don’t be afraid when administrators or mentors come watch you teach. Their criticism or suggestions can end up helping you and how things flow in the classroom.

Related topics:

Student Spotlight: Meet some of our newest BA in Art History graduates
Student Spotlight: Meet some of our our newest BFA and BA Studio Art graduates

Student Spotlight: Meet Caleigh Taylor, BFA in Visual Art Studies
Alumni Spotlight: Meet Lucy Parker, BFA in Studio Art, 2012
Alumni Spotlight: Meet Terah Walkup, BA in Art History, 2007

Student Spotlight: Meet Caleigh Taylor, BFA in Visual Art Studies, 2015

Thu. March 26, 2015

woman in red and white striped dress sits on railing to pose for picture

Caleigh Taylor, BFA in Visual Art Studies, 2015

Tell us a little about your background.
I am from Houston Texas. I have loved art from a very young age. I also enjoy dancing and playing music. I draw most of my inspiration from my love of stories and nature.

How did the Visual Art Studies (VAS) program change you or your goals?
The VAS has changed how I see my working process as an artist. Now I see that it is important to me share my passion for art not only though my art but helping others to get to learn to love art as well!

Why was the program special to you?
This program was special to me because they have encouraged me to try new things not only as a teacher but also as an artist. The faculty see you as an artist first so they will help you in developing your own creative process. The student group Artist in Action helped me to see how to be an artist that is helping the community.

Now that you are student teaching, what has most surprised you?
Student teaching has taught me about myself. It has pushed me to be a stronger person and to have more confidence in myself. It has also helped me to make up my mind quickly. I did not see myself learning about myself as much as I have.


Student Spotlight: Meet some of our newest BA in Art History graduates
Student Spotlight: Meet some of our our newest BFA and BA Studio Art graduates
Alumni Spotlight: Meet Karen Cervantes, BFA in Visual Art Studies, 2013
Alumni Spotlight: Meet Lucy Parker, BFA in Studio Art, 2012
Alumni Spotlight: Meet Terah Walkup, BA in Art History, 2007

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