In a picture painted in 1916, Joanne Drum points out a dead body on O’Connell Bridge.
In another picture, she spots a group of onlookers gathered high up on the parapet of a building. And in another she notices what’s written on the destination plate of a tram (Terenure) on College Green in 1901. Joanne is Education Officer at The National Gallery on Merrion Square.
“If you look at a picture with somebody standing beside you saying ‘have you noticed that tiny detail up in the corner?’, sometimes that can really bring it to life and make the whole experience more meaningful. More rich.”
Dublin.ie: This is the National Gallery of Ireland. But plenty of your pictures have Dublin as their subject, don’t they?
Joanne Drum: Look at the work of Jack B Yeats – not only was he working in Dublin but he was painting and drawing and sketching what he saw around him all the time so he was kind of documenting the history of this city. And he was there at such an important time in history. This is a man who not only lived through two world wars but also all the conflict and change that was happening in Ireland at the time as well.
giving people a quality experience is much more important than just getting them through the door
Dublin.ie: Is it important that people come away from here fired with interest and creative inspiration?
Joanne Drum: That is what we see as a key reason to do what we do – to provide a way for the public to engage further with the collection.
You’ll meet people who say ‘I came here as a child and I knew I wanted to be an artist or a doctor or whatever because of one image I saw at the gallery’.
George Bernard Shaw is probably the most famous example of that. He said that he owed the gallery ‘much of the only real education I ever got as a boy in Eire’.
He said that at the age of eighty-seven, an ex-Dubliner, and he gave us that bequest 80 years after the experience that he had here. (Shaw bequeathed one third of the royalties from his work to fund acquisitions for the collection. – Ed.) So this is a long game – and you can’t quantify the experience as easily as you can quantify the numbers. But we’re constantly trying to push the agenda that it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality – giving people a quality experience is much more important than just getting them through the door.
if you’re standing in front of a painting and you start saying in your mind what you’re seeing, you’re bound to notice more than you would if you were just looking
Dublin.ie: You do encourage babies through the door though – that’s an even longer game!
Joanne Drum: What we want a baby to learn is that this place is for them. So when we sit down in our circle and we do a baby workshop, parents ask what do we do here, what’s this about? And I joke and I say the baby should come away knowing the difference between the Low and High Renaissance! And then I say ‘no, what I want you all to know is that this is your space and that you are welcome here’. I understand from my own experiences that coming in somewhere with a buggy, sometimes you can be made to feel very unwelcome. Luckily we have a really roomy coffee shop and there’s plenty of room for buggies and that’s a big consideration. And if your baby’s caught short, well we have nappies available. I mean it’s not IKEA, but…
Dublin.ie: But how do your very young visitors react to the actual pictures?
Joanne Drum: I’ve done quite a lot of research into how babies and toddlers react to artwork. So when I do these workshops I’ll often take the parents into the gallery and say ‘okay, so here’s a Picasso’, and I’ll tell them that the research shows that babies will react more to a face than to a landscape.
So that’s one thing you can do with your baby: see if there’s a reaction, see if there’s a difference between how they react to different types of paintings. Try it – usually there is. Babies react more to brighter, very high contrast colours than they would to duller, more naturalistic colours – so try that as well.
And if a parent is in here with a very small child I would also do ‘say what you see’ – in fact that’s a good thing for anybody to do – if you’re standing in front of a painting and you start saying in your mind what you’re seeing, you’re bound to notice more than you would if you were just looking.
It’s way of encouraging ‘visual literacy’, to use the formal term, but it’s really just about looking in depth. Try repeating a gesture that you see in an artwork. Or if you see an animal, do the noise that the animal makes. You have to be willing to make a bit of an eejit of yourself!
At this point, Dublin.ie wondered aloud about how to make the sound of camel. We’re glad to say that if you find yourself spitting or hissing at a nativity scene in the National Gallery, preferably in the company of a two year old, well that’s fine by Joanne Drum.
Article header image: Joanne Drum, Education Officer, National Gallery of Ireland – Photo © National Gallery of Ireland
To find out more about The National Gallery of Ireland learning programmes visit www.nationalgallery.ie/Learning