There is more than meets the eye to the chairs, chests, vases, and boxes found in the galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We may accept them as beautiful and special because they have been selected to be exhibited in a museum. But such objects, originally made to be used, can also provide a wealth of information about the history, daily life, religion, social values, economics, and technology of different cultures and periods of history. Because it is concretely manifested in an actual object, this information can be more vivid, compelling, and memorable than that described in the pages of a book. This online gallery suggests a variety of ways to draw information from objects. We hope that the exploration of the possibilities and pitfalls of "decoding" functional objects in the Museum may help students develop deductive, critical, and analytic skills with wide applications for students of many ages and levels of experience.
• Feel comfortable using Museum objects as teaching tools
• Explore the relationship between art objects and the culture that produced them
• Realize the significance of design in everyday life
• Investigate the purposes and designs of utilitarian vs. art objects
• Appreciate the role of utilitarian objects as art objects and vice versa in a variety of cultures (NVAS 4, 6)
• Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge (NELAS 4, 12) (NSHT 3J, 5B)
• See how art reflects the larger culture that produced it (NVAS 4) (NSHT 2G)
• Experience the learning value of close observation of objects and discussion
Using this Resource
• Social Studies teachers will be interested in the variety of time periods and regions which are represented by the objects in this online gallery.
• Art teachers will be interested in exploring the process of art-making and the intent of the artist in creating particular works of art.
The explanatory texts that accompany the artworks in this online gallery -- in the Author's Notes section of the Slideshow View -- suggest the range of information that such objects can provide. Some of this information might be evident to the non-specialist or could be arrived at by inference; some could not.
There are many different ways in which this same information could and should be more appropriately shaped to make a lively learning experience for children. One suggestion of where to start is by looking at the documents attached to this online gallery, starting with "Functional Objects: How to Begin." Now it's up to you.
The objects in this tour are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide a deeper look utilitarian/art objects.