Former Art Education Professor Paul Bolin released his latest book, Learning Things: Material Culture in Art Education, with colleague Doug Blandy. This is the first comprehensive book to connect art education to material culture—an evolving pedagogy about the meaning of “things” in the lives of children, youth, and adults.
A resource for art educators and the public alike, Learning Things explores a range of objects exemplifying material culture, defined as “the human-formed objects, spaces, and expressions that make up our world and are frequently the articles we construct and/or possess for the purpose of personal memory making and the shaping of individual or group identity." Personal, anecdotal examples dot the text, as Blandy and Bolin illustrate how objects might be explored across time, people's experience and physical location. Bolin writes of a personal family heirloom, a child's rocking chair: "The rocking chair's physical presence in my world connected me in a material way to lives lived long ago, as seen in the various photographs of my relatives in rural Nebraska.
"In reflection, I found this action strikingly similar to how the two blue and white Japanese porcelain vases, prominent in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, served to bridge my world as a museum visitor with the distant time and place depicted in John Singer Sargent's Daughters of Edward Boit. The vases and the little rocking chair both serve as physical connectors, helping to link the worlds of the past with those of the present. Through this, it becomes apparent that the material does matter. It is through tangible things--the physical objects we engage with through a variety of our senses--that we encounter the world in its resonant form. It is in the material culture of our lives, found in the past and present, close by or perhaps at a distance, wherein we grasp a rich and resonant understanding of others as well as ourselves."
Through activities, approaches, and examples, Blandy and Bolin highlight concrete strategies for incorporating material culture into higher education and K–16 classrooms, as well as museum and community settings. Chapters are organized around various aspects of material culture, including object study, the role of technology, and multisensory art.