«Policy and Practice Interpretation at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Policy and Practice The Interdivisional Committee On Interpretation THE ...»
A picture of such large scale (typical of American painting after 1950) is unsettling when it features only a huge head. “The large scale,” Close explains, “forces the viewer to read the surface of the painting differently… look at it piece by piece.” The details can then be perceived either as pores, hairs, and pimples or as an
Close also reproduces the way the camera, like the human eye, focuses on only one area at a time, leaving other areas blurred. In these ways, he directs our attention to some intriguing aspects of visual perception.
126 words Outlines Many writers find that using an outline helps them define their goals and stick to them as they write. The label-writing worksheet shown here can help determine the purpose of a particular label and the ideas and facts to be conveyed.
Who is the audience? What is the setting?
General visitorsWho is the audience? What is the setting?
Temporary installation visitors General Temporary installation What is the information?
Textile has many Christian information? is unusual What is the What is the information? symbols, which Textile has many Christianmany Copts are Egyptian Christians Christian symbols, which is unusual Textile has symbols, which is unusual Copts are Egyptian Christians Copts is Egyptian Christians Designarea Greek cross, not the more typical Latin cross Design is a major textilesasurvive cross, not the more typical Latin cross Design is Greek Only a few Greek cross, not the more typical Latin cross Only a few major textiles survive textiles survive Only a few major
Any label produced by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts should adhere to these guidelines. They are consistent with those in the Interpretive Media Table, which covers all informational systems.
Format and length Gallery Identification Function: Establishes place, time, or subject Length: About 10 words Gallery or Section Panel Function: Articulates an organizing idea for a group of objects and provides a context in which to consider works of art Length: 150 words; l00 words if there are two panels in a gallery Group Label Function: Draws attention to characteristics shared by all objects in a group Length: l00 to 150 words Object Identification Function: Identifies maker and maker's date, country or culture, title or object type, date, medium, purchase fund, and accession number Length: No text Extended Object Label Function: Discusses the most compelling features of a work of art or answers the visitor's most pressing questions Length: 100 to 150 words Caption Function: Accompanies photos, maps, diagrams, and so forth Length: About 30 words Use of Language Unfamiliar vocabulary and complex grammatical structure can be barriers to learning in museums. Every attempt should be made to eliminate technical and subjective language and unnecessary foreign terminology. Interpretive materials should be gender-fair and free of cultural bias.
Art history has specialized terminology that museum professionals use fluently and unconsciously. General visitors do not understand these terms. Such language makes labels difficult to comprehend and wastes time better spent looking at objects.
Define art historical terms, or avoid them and use nontechnical language. Describe media in language that general visitors will likely be familiar with.
painted in several colors rather than polychromed Describe materials without reference to process unless omitting the process will confuse viewers.
carved wood should be shortened to wood silver-plated brass remains silver-plated brass, because calling it brass when it looks like silver would confuse viewers If the process is the most important information about a particular object, provide an explanation in the label text.
Jin-di-sugi is a technique John Bradstreet used to age cypress wood artificially. The wood is burned to remove the soft fibers and then scrubbed with wire brushes to highlight the remaining hard grain. The resulting three-dimensional pattern appears very old.
Subjective Language Subjective language should be supported by objective reasons. General visitors want to know why objects in a museum are good, not simply that they are good.11 For example, discuss the artist’s technical accomplishments, the rarity of the object, the object’s conceptual importance, or how the object satisfies the aesthetic criteria of the culture it represents.
Foreign Titles and Terminology
Foreign words often confuse or intimidate general visitors. Because they require translation, they also make a label longer, triggering a drop in readership.12 If the English title is given first, readers can jump to the label text without struggling over foreign words.
For titles given by the artist or conventionally used, give the English translation followed by the original-language title in parentheses. For generic descriptions such as landscape or still life, only English is necessary. If a translation would not adequately convey the meaning of the title (e.g., Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon), explain the foreign title in the label text.
Some terms from other languages (bodhisat~va, krater, majolica) have no equivalents in English. These can remain in the original language with an English translation in parentheses or an explanation in the text.
Gender Eliminate generic use of masculine-gender language whenever possible.
Cultures The terminology and approach used in describing and discussing cultures must be neutral.
Writers need to be sensitive to changes in the terms preferred by cultural communities. We use the following, knowing that they may be supplanted by others in the future.
African American, Asian American, Native American or American Indian, European American (noun), Euro-American (adjective) Collaboration The following procedure allows curators, educators, editors, and general visitors opportunities to check the style, content, and accessibility of labels. Before beginning the procedure, curators must determine the interpretive focus of the label, bearing in mind what visitors can see in the object and the questions that they frequently ask. The focus must relate to the overall interpretive plan for the gallery in which the object is installed, as developed by curators, along with the chairs of the Curatorial and Education divisions, and reviewed by the Interdivisional Committee on Interpretation and the director.
1. Curator or educational materials writer prepares first draft, depending on the curator's preference.
2. Curator and writer work together to ensure that the label is effective for visitors.
3. Writer rewrites and curator reviews as necessary.
4. Curator approves text.
5. Editor edits text.
6. Curator and writer approve edited text.
7. Designer designs label.
8. Label is produced.
9. Label is installed.
Staff will periodically evaluate labels to ensure that they meet the expectations and needs of the museum and its visitors. A variety of evaluation techniques will be used before, during, and after labels are written. For example, before writing a label staff might assess visitors' knowledge to uncover any misconceptions that need to be addressed, or staff might ask visitors to comment on a completed label to determine if it has communicated the intended message.13
Design Specifications An ideal object label design should conform to the following standards.14 Type size of 18 to 24 points • Line length of 8 to 12 words • At least 70 percent contrast between label color and type color • Type size and contrast should be increased if the label will be difficult to see when installed (placed behind glass, seen in low light, on a low pedestal).
Every attempt should be made to adhere to the museum's standard type specifications for each label format.
Information Mapping Learning and memory are aided by visible structure in written materials and by graphic presentation of complex information.
Visible Structure The reader should be able to see the structure of the text instantly. When appropriate, the writer can use bullets, headings, and bold type.
Bullets attract the eye and help break information into manageable parts.
• Headings provide a visible outline and multiple points of access to the information, • giving different types of readers with different purposes rapid access to the level of detail they want or need.
Bold type can quickly draw the reader's eye to important words, phrases, or • paragraphs. It should be used sparingly and is more appropriate in didactic panels or information structured as lists than in standard extended object labels.
Graphics Use graphics (maps, photos, diagrams) if they communicate an idea more powerfully or succinctly than words.
Notes Institute staff can obtain most of these references from the Education Division. Those marked with a bullet (•) are especially recommended.
1. Melora McDermott-Lewis, “Through Their Eyes: Novices and Advanced Amateurs,” in The Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project (Denver Art Museum, 1990), p. 12
2. Marilyn G. Hood, “Staying Away: Why People Choose Not to Visit Museums,” Museum News 61, no. 4 (1983): 51.
3. See McDermott-Lewis, “Through Their Eyes: Novices and Advanced Amateurs.”
4. Paulette M. McManus, “Oh, Yes, They Do: How Museum Visitors Read Labels and Interact with Exhibit Texts,” Curator 32, no. 3 (1989): 175.
5. Douglas Worts, “In Search of Meaning: ‘Reflexive Practice’ and Museums,” 1991 Program Sourcebook (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1991), p.
328; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1985), pp.44, 191-96.
6. “An Evaluation of Existing MIA Object Labels in Preparation for Reinstallation and Relabeling” (Report prepared by the Education Division of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1992); focus group interviews conducted by the Denver Art Museum, l986.
7. All the information on memory, attention, and barriers to learning is contained on pages 7-26 of S. Jay Samuels, “Some Essential Label-Writing Considerations for Museum Professionals: A Review of How People Learn and Remember, and What Kinds of Texts Are Most Effective” (Paper commissioned by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1~88).
8. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson, The Art of Seeing: An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter (Malibu, Calif.: The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, i990), pp. 27-71.
9. McDermott-Lewis, “Through Their Eyes: Novices and Advanced Amateurs,” pp. 12Melora McDermott, “Through Their Eyes: What Novices Value in Art Experiences,” 1988 Program Sourcebook (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1988), p. 9; Douglas Worts, “Art Museums and Their Visitors: An Assessment of the Role of SelfIdentity in the Visitor Experience” (Paper presented at the Museum Studies Colloquium, University of Toronto, l990), pp. 2, 6
10. Marlene Chambers, “To Create Discovery,” Museum News 68, no. 3 (1989): 41-44.
11. McDermott-Lewis, “Through Their Eyes: Novices and Advanced Amateurs,” pp. 23Stephen Bitgood et al., Effects of Label Characteristics on Visitor Behavior in Museums, Psychology Institute, Jacksonville State University); Technical Report no. 86-55 (Jacksonville, Ala., 1986), p. 7.
13. For a comprehensive overview of evaluation techniques and their uses, see C. G.
Screven, “Uses of Evaluation before, during, and after Exhibit Design,” ILVS Review: A ]ournal of Visitor Behavior 1, no. 2 [Spring 1990): 36-66.
14. See Beverly Serrell, Making Exhibit Labels: A Step-by-Step Guide (Nashville, Tenn.:
American Association for State and Local History, 1983), pp. 64-65; idem, “Formative Evaluation of Signs” (Paper presented at the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums Regional Proceedings, 1989); Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Wolf, “Labeling Study Summary” (Office of Education Research and Evaluation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, l991), pp. 7-9; “A Multidisciplinary Assessment of the State of the Art of Signage for Blind and Low Vision Persons” (Report prepared for the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, Washington, D.C., 1985), p. 16.
Aesthetics Chambers, M. “Improving the Esthetic Experience for Art Novices: A New Paradigm for Interpretive Labels.” In The Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project, pp. l01-20.
Denver Art Museum, 1990.
• Csikszentmihalyi, M., and R. E. Robinson. The Art of Seeing: An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter. Malibu, Calif.: The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1990.
Myers, S. “In Search of Aesthetic Experience: Are Museums Getting in the Way,” The Journal of Aesthetic Education 22, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 102-7.
Labels Bitgood, S. Cuing Visitors to Read Exhibit Labels: Effects of Handouts That Ask Questions. Jacksonville, Ala.: Center for Social Design, 1987.
Bitgood, S. “Deadly Sins Revisited: A Review of the Exhibit Label Literature.” Visitor Behavior 4, no. 3 (1989): 4-11.
Bitgood, S. Knowing When Exhibit Labels Work: A Standardized Guide for Evaluating and Improving Labels. Psychology institute, Jacksonville State University, Technical Report no. 87-90. Jacksonville, Ala., 1987.
Bitgood, S., T. Finlay, and R. Korn. “Bibliography: Exhibit Signs, Labels, and Graphics.” Visitor Behavior 1, no. 3 (1986): 6-7.
Bitgood, S., T. Einlay, and D. Wohr. Design and Evaluation of Exhibit Labels.
Psychology Institute, Jacksonville State University, Technical Report no. 87-40c.
Jacksonville, Ala., 1987.
Bitgood, S., and G. Gregg. “A Brief Review of the Research on Signs and Labels:
Where Are the Data?” Visitor Behavior 1, no. 3 (1986): 4.
Bitgood, S., G. Nichols, M. Pierce, P. Conroy, and D. Patterson. The Effects of Label Characteristics on Visitor Behavior in Museums. Psychology Institute, Jacksonville State University, Technical Report no. 86-55. Jacksonville, Ala., 1986.