Inclusive Object Toolkit

Re-Making Knowledge in Museums and Universities

Art in the Museum

This 8 min video and discussion guide uses the Baltimore Museum of Art as a springboard to examine broader issues of museum location and access; architectural language and design; collection taxonomies and interpretive tendencies in art museums; as well as the practice of naming spaces after donors. It is designed to help build museum literacy and draw attention to tendencies in art-history and museology that have been naturalized over centuries of practice.

How do these aspects of museums affect their message? How do they impact visitors? How does what we observe in this museum relate to what we see in other museums? What could be done differently?

The discussion guide immediately below the video includes provocations and prompts as well as prompts for activities that can be conducted in the museum or in the classroom.




  1. Describe the spatial culture of the museum. Consider siting, architecture, the naming of spaces, organization of the collection and design choices in the galleries.
  2. How might these practices influence how people perceive art in general? specific kinds of art?
  3. How might these practices influence how people perceive themselves in relation to the museum? How might visitors experience the museum differently depending on where they live, their race or ethnicity, their gender, their educational background or whether or not they have disabilities?

Object Encounters in the Art Museum

This series of videos considers the ways that audiences engage with art in one of its institutional contexts: the museum. Each 8 minute video focuses on a single artwork, drawing on interviews which undergraduate students conducted in Fall 2018 with visitors to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Students asked visitors what they noticed about an artwork, what meaning they made of it, what questions they had about the artwork and what they took away from the object label. Collectively, the videos highlight:  

  1. How audiences - whether pursuing an aesthetic, formal or informal learning experience - engage with art and the interpretive frames and language that art-history uses.  
    1. What helps learners? What do they want to learn? What jars or frustrates learners?
    2. How does anxiety about who belongs in a museum and worry about knowing enough to appreciate or understand art manifest? What reinforces those concerns? What might alleviate it?
  2. What assumptions might museums and teachers be making about the background and cultural references of our audiences, whether these are museum visitors or students in our classrooms? 
  3. What shared cultural expectations shape how we understand art from different time periods and places?  

Following each video are discussion prompts focused on the visitor outcomes specific to the artwork featured in the video.


Corot Discussion Questions

How did visitors perceive the image before reading the label? 

How does this compare to their interpretation of the painting after reading the label?

What were visitors curious to understand about the painting? 

How did visitors react to the text?

How would you describe the voice of the label? its tone, and style?

Based on visitors' reactions, which aspects of the experience of this painting reinforced a sense of belonging? Which aspects might foster feelings of inadequacy?

Bacchiacca Discussion Questions

How did visitors react to the painting? What cultural expectations did they carry into their analysis?

How did visitors react to the colors of the painting? How did they react to the label's interpretation of the colors? 

What assumptions does the label make about visitor knowledge, background, or likely reaction to the painting?

Circle of Niccolò di Pietri Gerini Discussion Questions

How did visitors react to the painting? What cultural expectations did they carry into their analysis? 

How do visitor reactions to this painting compare to visitor reactions to the later work of the same subject (Bacchiacca video)?

What do visitors think about the time period when this artwork was made? How does that compare to students' descriptions of the Middle Ages and medieval art? to descriptions of the Renaissance and Renaissance art?

What assumptions does the label make about visitor background or knowledge?

3 out of 11 visitors made comments on the ethnicity of Jesus. What do you make of that? 

How did visitors react to the aesthetic judgments made or assumed in the label?

Great Mother Head-dress (D'mba) Discussion Questions

How did visitors react to the African art on display? What cultural expectations and assumptions did they carry into their analysis? What terms do they use to describe Africa and African art?

How do visitor reactions to this sculpture compare to visitor reactions to the European artworks in the other videos?

Almost every visitor asked for more context for the artwork, even though the museum made available a museum catalog of the collection on the bench in front of the sculpture. What do you make of visitors expressing the feeling of not having enough context?

For both the Circle of Niccolò di Pietri Gerini painting and the Great Mother Head-dress, visitors wondered about the artwork's journey from the time and place of its production to the present museum in Baltimore. What do you make of that interest in museum processes? Do you have any questions about the work of museums and how museums work?