Faculty Resources

Teaching and Learning with the Syracuse University Art Museum

SU Art believes in the teaching potential of the Museum and its collections. With over 40,000 objects, SU Art houses artworks that apply to virtually every discipline and can be used to enhance student learning in any course.

These artworks can be used as primary sources, discussion prompts, cultural context, historical evidence, or creative impetus. A day studying artwork at the Museum might be spent illuminating theoretical concepts, enhancing students’ skills in visual literacy and close analysis, or examining course specific topics in a new way. This brochure provides an overview of how instructors can best collaborate with SU Art Museum staff to serve faculty, students, and course objectives. Also included is an overview of models for teaching with art at the Museum. To schedule a visit or to request more information on how SU Art can assist you in your instruction, email suart@syr.edu. Please allow at least three weeks’ advance notice to reserve the gallery.



The Syracuse University Art Museum holds an active educational role on campus, functioning as a learning site and applying its expansive collection as a teaching tool to serve students and faculty for all schools and colleges on campus. As part of Academic Affairs, the museum aims to support curriculum and research at all schools and units on campus. Each year, the museum works closely with faculty to support approximately 150 class visits in a wide range of academic departments, including African American studies, anthropology, architecture, art and music histories, international relations, English, citizenship and civic engagement, philosophy, and religion, among many others. Students and instructors are welcome to visit our various study rooms. The print study room holds 33,000 prints, drawings, watercolors, and other works on paper. Our photography study room stores nearly 10,000 photographs. Lastly, our new study room is designed as a space to display paintings, sculptures, textiles and three-dimensional objects for close examination and critique by researchers.

A museum can be both a traditional and non-traditional learning space. In many ways, engaging with art objects complements other forms of learning from primary sources, whether textual analysis, lab sessions, or original research projects. At the museum, students physically and visually encounter objects that require no prior knowledge, experience, or reading. Visiting the museum to study art allows instructors and students to slow down, maintain presence, notice emotion, practice deep attention, and discover new ways of both teaching and learning.

Museum visits aim to strengthen students’ visual literacy skills through exercises in close looking and visual analysis. Visual literacy skills are not only useful for research, papers, presentations, and other course assignments, but also for life beyond the university. Furthermore, the Museum fosters a learning environment with the potential to engage all students in fresh and exciting ways. In addition to visual literacy, visits are readily tailored to course-specific goals and learning outcomes.

Planning Your Course Visit

To schedule a course visit to the museum, email suart@syr.edu. Please allow at least three weeks’ notice for arrangements.


Museum visits are most successful when they are clearly integrated into the course. Effective visits relate to specific learning outcomes. Explain clearly when, where, and why students are being asked to visit the museum for class. Plan a goal-oriented activity or discussion. See our teaching resources for ideas and adaptable modules.


Before coming to the Museum, decide which of the below-listed Teaching Model(s) your visit will follow. Then, pick out how many and which artworks your students will encounter. Advice and other teaching resources are available upon request. Please communicate these decisions with SU Art Museum staff well ahead of time.

Understanding an object within the context of a class takes time. We embrace active, inquiry-based pedagogy that centers student observation. While each class is different, we suggest that instructors allocate around 10 minutes to study each object. We suggest the following selection guidelines:

  • 50-minute Class: 4-6 objects
  • 75-minute Class: 6-8 objects
  • Longer seminar classes: 10-12 objects



Students will respond to your instruction. If you ask them to practice visual analysis, model it for them first. This can be done prior to your visit with an image in the classroom, or in the first fifteen minutes of your visit with an object from the collections.


Best practices involve scaffolding student learning. Your students will get the most out of their visit to the Museum if it continues to be relevant to their overall learning in the course. The follow-up can be done in many ways: assignments, discussions, references, or even attempts to utilize and build their analytical skills. Museum staff are happy to help where possible even after students leave.

Teaching Models

While artworks in the Museum’s collections can be utilized for learning in many ways, instructors are encouraged to utilize one or two of six distinct models for teaching with art. These models identify and explain specific thinking dispositions which can be deployed to satisfy precise educational aspirations.


Model 1: Visual Literacy

To learn how to look with an active and critical eye sharpens many of the same skills that college students are asked to use in writing and analysis: observation, interpretation, evidence-based reasoning, argument formation, etc. Furthermore, visual literacy is crucial outside of the university as students attempt to navigate the complex visual environment that is the twenty-first century. Faculty members can request sessions that are exclusively devoted to developing students’ abilities to observe, describe, analyze, and interpret images.


Model 2: Art as Visual Culture/Cultural Context

Artworks can offer broader cultural context to a particular time or place. Given the predominance of the visual in any social or historical moment, artwork easily supports the investigation of larger course topics. Instructors are encouraged to select artworks that mirror course material and/or to discuss options with Museum staff.


Model 3: Art as Primary Source

By framing art as a primary source, instructors can challenge student assumptions about historical material. Using art as primary text expands text-related skills in fresh ways and counters the primacy of textual histories. Furthermore, this approach exposes the idea that art, like every cultural document, is neither neutral nor timeless.


Model 4: Art as Praxis to Theory

Theory, in any discipline, can often be elusive and difficult to teach. Works of art can visually exemplify, reinforce, or ground theoretical concepts. This model asks students to apply theoretical knowledge to physical objects. Students will attempt to articulate how theories from their course are represented, supported, countered, disrupted, or questioned by the artwork in front of them.


Model 5: Art as Creative Stimulus

Artworks naturally inspire their viewers. This model utilizes that emotional, creative response. Instructors might select works to serve as inspiration for class assignments including, but not limited to, research papers, creative writing, musical compositions, theatrical performances, students presentations, science experiments, blog posts, architectural drawings, or business ventures.


Model 6: Museum as Institution

SU Art, like any museum, collects, displays, and preserves certain cultural objects. By analyzing the museum itself as a physical, academic, and social space, students are emboldened to question the theoretical, ethical, cultural, and practical implications of institutions and their practices.

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