The language of living : developing intelligent novices at the Suter Art Gallery : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Philosophy in Museum Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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This research was founded in Bruer’s (1993, p.15) concept of the intelligent novice, considering students visiting an art gallery could be so described. He defines intelligent novices as “people who learn new fields and solve novel problems more expertly than most, regardless of how much domain-specific knowledge they possess. Among other things, intelligent novices seem to control and monitor their thought processes”. Peckham’s (1965) ‘cognitive dissonance’ is related, describing how some novice learners respond in cognitively threatening situations. These theories are augmented by Efland’s (2002) exploration into art and cognition, in particular, the concepts of ‘ill-structured cognitive domains’ and ‘cognitive flexibility’. Drawing on and reconceptualising these theories, this research addresses how the art gallery environment helps students become intelligent novices. The case study focuses on the researcher’s education programmes located at The Suter, Te Aratoi a Whakatu, Nelson, New Zealand’s oldest public art gallery, established in 1898. This crossdisciplinary research bridges education and museum studies, and is action-based using mixedmethods. Through a process of journaling, observating, discussing, dialoguing, audio and video recording, as well as collecting and analysing documents including students’ work, the researcher considered how young students develop as intelligent novices. She found that their learning in the art gallery was enhanced by three interrelated factors: the individual’s agency, physical aspects of the art gallery, and the community of practice which developed around class visits, each essential to the development of the intelligent novice. A framework was developed to support art museum educators in facilitating these attributes. The thesis suggests that: Intelligent novices independently make effective connections between prior learning and novel situations; Within the art gallery as an ill-structured domain, the art gallery educator works with communities of practice to support development of intelligent novices; Repeat gallery visits enable students and communities of practice to practise particular strategies in order to develop as intelligent novices. Intelligent novices flourish when all members of the communities of practice demonstrate such characteristics. It concludes that, due to the ‘ill-structured’ nature of the art gallery environment, and its cultural role in society, the role of the intelligent novice is as active cultural transformer.
Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Suter Art Gallery, Art galleries, Art museums, Art education, Study and teaching, Art, New Zealand