Posing with Art: Researching and Designing for Performative Acts of Interpretation

Palmyre Pierroux, University of Oslo, Department of Education, Norway, Anne Qvale, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Norway, Rolf Steier, University of Oslo, Norway, Birgitte Sauge, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway


In this paper, we review recent developments in technology-enhanced posing activities in art museums. We present a sociocultural perspective on the intertwined cognitive and social aspects of gesture and posing in meaning making, and we discuss how these relate to visitors’ interpretive processes in encounters with art. We present two cases in which interpretive technologies have been designed with posing activities.

The cases are taken from a nationally funded design-based research project that entailed close collaboration over several years between a university and a national museum of art, architecture, and design. The use of photography by Edvard Munch in his self-portraits was the theme for the interpretive activities, which had young people between the ages of fifteen and eighteen as the main focus group. Interviews, field observations, and video recordings of over fifty posing sessions comprise the main data corpus.

Applying methods from interaction analysis, we found that posing interactions frame an interpretative process that moves through cycles of talk, movement, comparison, focus, and adjustment. We discuss in this paper how perspectives and findings from this research may inform a set of design principles for incorporating ‘posing’ in interpretive activities in art museums. We also reflect on the way academia and the museum collaborated in the design process, and on the interaction between the different institutional perspectives and approaches.

Keywords: posing, gallery interactives, meaning making, co-design, art museum

1. Introduction

Taking personal and group snapshots to remember visits to museums has deep cultural and historical roots in tourism practices (Chalfen, 1987; Miller & Edwards, 2007). However, the global popularity of documenting museum visits became strikingly apparent when Flickr, one of the first social photography sites, was created a decade ago. Since then, visitors’ social media-enhanced mobile phones have become an increasingly integrated part of browsing and social practices in gallery spaces, with friends and families taking pictures of each other ‘posing’ with artworks and then sharing and tagging them on social media sites like Instagram (Jaworski & Thurlow, 2009; Weilenmann, Hillman, & Jungselius, 2013) and on blogs like Posing at the Louvre (http://www.posingatthelouvre.com/). Recently, art gallery interactives have been designed to also engage visitors in posing with digital images of works from the collection using motion-sensing technology (Alexander, Barton et al., 2013).

In this paper, we explore posing as an embodied and performative act of art interpretation in two different projects at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, Norway. In the first case, posing was incorporated into an interpretive activity designed for a walk-up gallery interactive. The design was developed by the University of Oslo, in collaboration with the museum, in the nationally funded research project CONTACT (http://www.uv.uio.no/iped/english/research/projects/contact/index.html). The overall aim of CONTACT was to explore the innovative design and use of digital and mobile technologies in communication and education practices in museums and cultural heritage organizations. CONTACT had young people (12 to 18 years old) as a specific target group and research focus. The second case explores how the museum adapted the gallery ‘posing interactive’ into a tablet-based activity for museum workshops that included a creative art-making activity. The adaptation illustrates how the research collaboration provided the museum with inspiration and theoretically informed design principles for incorporating ‘posing’ and digital technologies in its educational practice. We discuss how academia and the museum brought different skills and disciplinary perspectives to the research and development process (i.e., art history expertise, exhibition design experience, visitor studies, interaction design, and sociocultural perspectives on ‘meaning making in art’) (Pierroux, Krange, & Sem, 2011; Pierroux, 2012).

In both cases, the use of photography by Edvard Munch in his self-portraits was the theme for visitors’ interpretive ‘posing’ activities. Edvard Munch is one of the most important painters from the Nordic countries, particularly well known for his expressionist works. He studied humanity, seeking and experimenting throughout his life with new styles and approaches that would express his own feelings and those of others. Munch was active as an artist for over sixty years, and his production is unusually large, containing over seventy self-portraits in addition to portraits, group paintings, and landscapes (Eggum, 1987; Cheroux, 2011; Steihaug, 2013).

Munch continually explored the potential of different media, including the new medium photography. He used photographs as sketchbooks, as sources for paintings, and as artistic means. However, that which fundamentally distinguishes Munch from other painters who practiced photography at the same time is the quantity of self-portraits he produced, and posing himself in front of the camera was a method he explored (Figs. 1a–b). In the history of photography, as far as we currently know, he was the first to take the kind of self-portraits at arm’s length that resemble today’s cell phone ‘selfies’ (Cheroux, 2011).

 pierroux.fig.1http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pierroux.fig_.1-835x1024.jpg 835w" sizes="(max-width: 195px) 100vw, 195px" /> pierroux.fi2http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pierroux.fi2_-626x1024.jpg 626w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pierroux.fi2_.jpg 1567w" sizes="(max-width: 146px) 100vw, 146px" />

 Figures 1a–b: Photographic self-portraits, Ekely 1930, Ekely 1931-32.

2. The collaborative design process

The collaboration between museum and university was organized using design-based methods, an approach of working with design experiments increasingly used in the learning sciences (Brown, 1992; Anderson & Shattuck, 2012). In this study, the method entailed 1) identifying problems that were relevant for the museum to explore in the context of the CONTACT research project, and 2) co-designing interventions that were potentially formative for practice (Engeström, 2008) and could be studied empirically by the researchers. Project participants formulated a proposal that was approved by museum leadership: to explore the design and use of digital, multimodal educational materials for visitors to the permanent exhibition of Edvard Munch’s art, located in the museum’s historical National Gallery building. In addition to key roles played by the special adviser (second author) and the senior curator of education, the director of Old Masters and Modern Art was important to the project by loaning a gallery in near proximity to the Munch exhibition to serve as project room for nearly three months and by participating in important design meetings. Munch’s World emerged as the overall theme for the project room, organized around four subjects to structure visitors’ engagement with Munch’s artistic production: My Self, My Place, My Friends, and My Media. The design was proposed by the senior curator of education as a relevant way for young people to understand Munch’s art and the problems and themes he worked with through different motives. This art historical approach was embraced by the team because of the potential to resonate with young people’s identity projects and social media use (Sefton-Green & Erstad, 2013).

Involving young people as participants in design was a premise for CONTACT research. Accordingly, an exploratory design session was organized at this stage of the process at a high school to generate discussions about the proposed themes with young people (17 to 18 years) and ideas for the design of gallery interactives and activities. The students were given small prints of many of Munch’s works, along with questions to discuss in small groups. During the session, the teacher took a few photos of the working students. On impulse, the researcher asked the students to continue working with the self-portrait questions by using the camera to compose their own portraits. The students in this group spent the next five minutes enthusiastically taking photos of each other posing with prints of Munch’s self portraits (Figures 2a–b). They appeared engaged, taking a photo, sharing the image by passing the camera around, and then retaking the photo making small adjustments. In the process, they noticed and discussed details, including facial expression, posture, and composition. Based on observations of this improvised ‘posing’ activity, the My Self interactive was developed for the project room through several iterations of prototyping and testing with students, museum partners, interaction designers, and researchers.

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Figures 2a–b: Students posing like Munch in classroom

3. Meaning making and posing

Perspectives from theories of art, learning, and creativity frame an understanding ‘posing’ as a performative and interpretive act that is intertwined with perceptual, dialogical, and creative aspects of meaning making in museums. In art, relations between artwork, artist, and viewer in meaning production have long been a topic. Leonardo de Vinci, among others, wrote about the ways that artists express psychological representations of human action and gestures (Streeck, 2009). Viewers anticipate and complete actions of figures in paintings because of general empathy with human behavior and motivations. This speaks to the imaginative capacity of the beholder, but also to the socialized competence for perceiving motions and representations as meaningful. Artists’ representations of movements, and the ways in which they become ‘apprehensible’ for viewers, illustrate “that the art of seeing and the art of showing are interdependent synthetic achievements” (Streeck, 2009, p. 3). Accordingly, posing in art museums has been argued as a type of specific type of gesture in meaning making that is linked to the representational and expressive qualities of an artwork (Steier, in press).

In the learning sciences, distinctions have been explored between different functions of gesture in meaning-making processes. First, gesture is a communicative resource, as part of a symbolic system for socially coordinated action and thought. Particularly relevant to this study is the iconic gesture, defined as gestures that resemble the shape of their referents. The focus is often on hand movements, and the various ways these create external representations to depict for others (Roth, 2001)—in this case, for other visitors at a museum. Depicting, or mimetic gestures, are what we define as ‘posing gestures,’ when visitors interpret and attempt to reproduce aspects and motions of figures in paintings (Steerck, 2008; Steier, in press). Intertwined with this externalized, communicative aspect, gestures may be internally oriented, as a precursor to concept formation (Vygotsky, 1986). Studies of language and conceptual development show how gestures are often spontaneously used when children lack scientific language and concepts to express themselves verbally (Hostetter & Alibali, 2008; Furberg & Arnseth, 2009; Goldin-Meadow & Alibali, 2013). Performing ‘representations’ and ‘representing’ gestures are thus studied as relations between culture and cognition (Roth, 2001; Saxe, 2012).

Drawing on these perspectives, and on existing studies of visitors’ gestures and interactions in museums (vom Lehn, Heath, & Hindmarsh, 2001; Heath & vom Lehn, 2004; Meisner, vom Lehn et al., 2007), a recent study by Steier (in press) illustrates how some visitors similarly pose ‘for themselves’ in a spontaneous, unprompted manner when interpreting an artwork, and how such gestures may then become picked up by their companions and mediate a social, interpretive process. Based on a study of small groups of young people engaged in different posing activities, Steier (in press) proposed a model of steps in a ‘posing cycle’ that emphasizes how adjustments in poses are made through social coordination of comparing and focusing on art representations with friends (Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Posing interaction cycle

4. Case 1: Posing and gallery interactive

We draw on Steier’s model to describe how posing framed and entered into young people’s interpretive processes at the My Self gallery interactive. As described, the broad aims of the interactive were to engage young people in exploring Munch’s self-portraits and his artistic means of expressing inner emotion, state of mind, and self-image. By artistic means, we mean compositional features like posture, gaze, facial expression, and setting, but also symbolic and expressive, painterly qualities. In the prototype implemented in the project room, the visitor was invited to first select one of Munch’s self-portrait posters from a bin and to physically hang it on the wall (Figure 4). An RFID tag on the back of the poster is read and triggers the display of a digital image of the work on a screen adjacent to the poster, along with textual information about this particular self-portrait. This brief text is quite descriptive, uses short sentences, and directs the visitor’s attention to key features or traits through direct reference to the image. On a control panel below the screen, the visitor is invited to ‘pose like Munch.’

image2http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/image2.jpg 397w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Figure 4: My Self prototype

On touching ‘yes’ to participate, the wall-mounted screen displays Munch’s self-portrait on one side, and a camera view of the visitor on the other side (Figure 4). The visitor assumes Munch’s pose, checking her position, gaze, and expression against the digital and analogue reproductions. Clicking ‘take picture,’ the visitor has a five-second countdown before the snapshot is taken. She may try again if not satisfied with the result shown on the screen. When finished, she is invited to add a caption and share the photo on the museum’s Flickr stream, visible both on the museum’s website and on a screen near the entrance to the room. She is also invited to have the photo sent to her email for personal use. A short film (approximately thirty seconds) is shown on the screen immediately afterwards, with a curator standing beside a different artwork in the museum. He explains how it relates to Munch’s self-portrait and prompts the visitor to seek it out during the remainder of the visit. The visitor may also choose not to watch the film and to return to a new round of posing.


Observations and video recordings of visitors’ interactions with the four interactives in Munch’s World were collected over a period of six weeks. In addition, groups of young people were recruited to visit. Some groups were recruited in the context of a free-choice museum visit with friends, while other groups were recruited from field trip bookings at the museum by local high schools. Approximately 120 students (16 to 18 years old) on field trips participated in the study, which was coordinated with the teachers and museum educators to comprise eight (8) one-hour sessions involving approximately fifteen (15) students per group. Consent forms for filmed observations were secured in advance, with two smaller groups (three to four students) consenting to wear microphones in each session. The students were prepared for the visit, first spending twenty to thirty minutes in the Munch gallery guided by a museum educator, where they were introduced to themes and perspectives related to his works, including Self-Portrait with Cigarette, 1895 (see Figure 10). The group then moved to the project room nearby, where they spent twenty to thirty self-guided minutes. The teacher and museum educator were present in the room but did not intervene. Two researchers followed each group with video cameras for the entire visit, and at the end of each session, brief whole group semi-structured interviews were conducted. Approximately twelve hours of video recordings comprise the main data corpus.


Applying principles from interaction analysis (Derry, Pea et al., 2010), we reviewed the video recordings several times to develop a rich description of how groups approach and interact with the My Self interactive in the gallery. We observed that interest in participating in the posing activity was either triggered by students noticing a feed of self-portraits from the Flickr site on a screen mounted near the entrance of the room, or by watching others having fun making self-portraits. When a group approached the interactive, there was often a shared division of labor, with one person tacitly assuming responsibility for reading instructions on the screen while others went through the bin to select and hang a poster. This person typically operated the camera (“Ready”?) and then posted the picture on Flickr. Occasionally, students on field trips would initially take group pictures without interacting with Munch’s self-portrait, having fun posting them to Flickr and sending a copy to themselves by email. In our analysis, the first pose step in the cycle was enacted (Figure 3) when the camera was activated and the visitor’s attention was oriented to her image next to Munch’s self-portrait on the screen. Visitors often ‘posed like Munch’ spontaneously, in a playful manner, for the initial picture, but chose to try again when they compared results on the split screen. At this point, visitors looked carefully at the artwork, read the text, and identified small shifts they needed to make in gaze, posture, or expression (“look up,” or “it says he was sad”). This is the ‘focus’ step of the cycle. Verbally and quite often physically, members in a group assisted one another in adjusting their pose, the third step. Once the poser was satisfied, she asked her friend to take the picture and, if still satisfied when comparing the result, to share it.

We have selected an excerpt to illustrate this cycle. A group that alternated between four and seven boys spent over five minutes playfully taking pictures without interacting with the Munch image. However, when a new boy ‘Tom’ joined the group, he immediately began to pose like the self-portrait, which the other boys picked up on. After the photo was taken, however, the boys observed that Tom’s position and expression was not very accurate when compared to the artwork, and they decided as a group for Tom to try again, saying: “We can get this.” Tom went to the bin, selected a new self-portrait and signaled that he was going to pose like Munch (Figure 5).

sek1ahttp://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/sek1a-1024x456.jpg 1024w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/sek1a-500x222.jpg 500w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/sek1a.jpg 1037w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Figure 5: Selecting a self-portrait from the bin

The other boys encouraged him and cleared space around him. Orienting himself to face the same way as Munch, he had problems seeing the screen at the same time to correct his expression. The other boys decided by looking at the image that he should face the opposite direction (Figure 6a).

pierroux.fig6Figures 6 a–f: Posing cycle in action

1. James: You have to stand like this (using arms to turn Tom to face the other way).

2. Ben: Like that. And then you have to look at the camera (looking at the screen and then leaning in to adjust Tom’s torso angle), no, like this. And then you have to turn toward the camera (moving hands up to Tom’s head), and look right at the camera, more like this (adjusting angle of Tom’s head while looking at screen).

3. Ben: Like that (moving hands up to fix Tom’s hair).

4. Tom: Behind the ear (Tom fixes hair too, boys giggle).

5. Ben: No, it has be just right, now a little more this way, OK now look straight at the camera (Bob leans into picture behind Tom with a smile on his face).

 6. Chris: Are you ready? (touches ‘take photo,’ camera begins counting down, Bob leans into picture behind Tom with a smile on his face)

7. Ben: (snaps finger at Bob, who moves back out of frame) No, don’t do that, you’ll ruin it.

8. All: (watch until photo appears, laugh, satisfied with result, post on Flickr and move away)

In this sequence, after an initial and unusually long period of taking group photos that they could post on Flickr, the boys became engaged in Tom’s aim to ‘pose like Munch.’ The camera was activated, and Tom began to pose. However, when comparing this pose with the self-portrait, Tom was clearly not pleased. The boys then assisted by moving him (Figure 6a), instructing him where to stand, how to orient his body (Figure 6b), and physically adjusting the angle of his head by comparing his image to Munch’s (Figure 6c). They focused on details of Munch’s composition and expression to adjust and readjust Tom’s features, hair, and gaze (Figure 6d) until they were satisfied (Figure 6e). When the photo was taken, they were pleased and posted it to the Flickr stream (Figure 6f). Their engagement and attention was communicated more through physical movements than verbal utterances, and the position of the camera becomes an important tool in their work of comparing, focusing, and adjusting Tom’s gaze (lines 2 and 5). This close analysis of the unfolding interactions illustrates the complex and creative aspects of the group’s collaborative work. It seems possible to say that the group created a self-portrait that captured Munch’s expression using Tom as artistic means.

5. Case 2: Posing workshop

Early studies and observations from the project room were complemented by independent observations and interviews conducted by the museum partners with focus groups. These informal studies suggested that visitors’ engagement in posing with Munch’s self-portraits were outcomes that the museum could develop for other educational activities. In particular, there was interest in making stronger disciplinary links to Munch’s own experimental methods using photography in his art. The artist’s large photograph collection clearly shows how he investigated the camera’s potential for studies of self-representation and posing, and also how he used some of the photographs as a basis for paintings (Figures 7, 8) (Eggum,1987; Chéroux, 2011). 


http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_vin-1024x930.jpg 1024w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_vin-330x300.jpg 330w" sizes="(max-width: 240px) 100vw, 240px" /> Figure 8: Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906 © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONO








The workshop was developed for young people (grades eight to ten), and launched in conjunction with the museum’s exhibitions and programs planned for the 150-year Munch jubilee in 2013. The curatorial approach to the jubilee exhibitions was reflected in the aims of See Munch, which were to foster understanding of Munch’s art using topical and different approaches. Recent research has focused on analyzing the performative aspects of the artist’s self-portraits. In particular, there is scholarly interest in how Munch used self-staging—and its impact on the viewer—to explore painterly problems, and how these staged self-portraits also contributed to forming the public’s understanding of him (Steihaug, 2013). The design of the See Munch workshop similarly drew on this research, as well as on visitors’ experiences with the My Self gallery interactive.

The project group included one curator from jubilee exhibition, a project leader from the Munch’s World project, and two museum educators. Based on the museum’s previous experience with tablet-based workshop activities, iPads were selected as the digital platform. The project team experimented with the functions, content, and scope of activities in the design process (Figure 9), deciding on a creative sequence for students: study, pose, photograph, paint, present, and publish.

The students were first introduced to Munch’s works, both original paintings and digital reproductions depending on the setting. Working in small groups, they then selected a self-portrait by Munch that they wanted to interpret and recreate. In contrast to the gallery interactive, they could stage the self-portrait by using similar backgrounds they could find on site (e.g., a corner, window panes, a corridor). They either photographed one another while posing or used a timer function on the iPad camera. A photo was then selected to serve as point of departure for making a digital painting that recreated Munch’s work, using the application Brushes. The iPad was also used to project their digital paintings for group presentations, and to publish them on Flickr.

selvportrett_med_vin_test_2 selvportrett_med_vinhttp://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_vin1-330x300.jpg 330w" sizes="(max-width: 156px) 100vw, 156px" /> selvportrett_med_vin_digitalt_4

Figures 9a–c: Testing of application by project team

The workshops lasted two hours and were led by fourteen art educators in the respective museums who had backgrounds in either art history or art. All received training from the project group from the National Museum. Teaching materials included information about Munch and his self-portraits, suggestions for how the students could pose and take photographs, instructions for the paint application, and a brief analysis of key works with discussion points to be raised with the students during the workshop. The See Munch workshop was implemented in three different settings: school classes visiting the museum in Oslo; school classes visiting a touring Munch exhibition in different museums in Norway; and See Munch workshops that visited schools throughout Norway. Nearly five thousand students participated in the workshop during a four-month period in 2013.


In this section, we provide a brief visual analysis of student paintings that have been selected from the museum’s database of See Munch products. In art history, this method addresses the artworks’ formal elements—visual attributes such as color, line, texture, and size—and includes interpretations of meaning (Sayre, 2005; Tucker, 2001). In particular, we analyze the ways in which the posing photograph has played a role in the digital paintings of the young people as they interpreted and recreated self-portraits by Munch.

Pierroux.fig11.jpghttp://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Selvportrett-med-sigarett-18951.jpg 767w" sizes="(max-width: 184px) 100vw, 184px" />Figure 10: Self-Portrait with Cigarette, 1895 © Nasjonalmuseet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONO

 selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_1http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_1-150x150.jpg 150w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_1-1024x1024.jpg 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 142px) 100vw, 142px" /> selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_2 selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_3 selvportrett_med_sigarett_digitalt_4

Figures 11a–d: Selection of students’ digital paintings

In the selection of paintings above, we see poses that have captured the slight twist in the upper torso of Munch’s Self-Portrait with Cigarette (Figures 11 a, b), with the gaze directed toward the viewer and the hand with the cigarette positioned under the face (Figures 11 c, d). We also see that the students have focused on positioning the head in the uppermost part of the composition, with the image cut off below the hip (Figures 11 a, b, d). The light is clearly coming from below in all four images, with hand and face highlighted. All of the backgrounds have a diffuse character.

Figure 8. Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine 1906  © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONOhttp://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_vin-1024x930.jpg 1024w, http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_med_vin-330x300.jpg 330w" sizes="(max-width: 240px) 100vw, 240px" />Figure 12: Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906 © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONO

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Figures 13a–c: Selection of students’ digital paintings

This self-portrait is more complex and has more details than the previous work by Munch, but the placement of the seated figure with a slight turn in the upper torso is apparent in all three student paintings. The gaze has been difficult to render, but there has been a focus on light source (Figures 13 a, b) and capturing the scale of the room with the diagonally placed table in the foreground and the patch of orange to create depth in the background (Figures 13 a, c). Attention to color use and a sense of loneliness are expressed in all three works.

S¿vnl¿s natt. Selvportrett i indre oppr¿r. 1920http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pierroux.fig14-888x1024.jpg 888w" sizes="(max-width: 260px) 100vw, 260px" />Figure 14: Sleepless Night. Self-Portrait in Inner Turmoil, 1920 © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONO

selvportrett_digitalt_1  selvportrett_digitalt_2selvportrett_digitalt_3

Figures 14a–c: Selection of students’ digital paintings

The physicality and expressiveness of the image of a man in full figure is painted in a bird’s-eye perspective. The background is complicated, with several objects and a room in the background that creates depth and a sense of uneasiness in the painting. The man’s stance, with raised shoulders and clenched fists at chest level, are rendered through the poses in each of the paintings, as are the spread, planted legs and bowed head and direct gaze.

selvportrett_om_nattenhttp://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/selvportrett_om_natten-784x1024.jpg 784w" sizes="(max-width: 229px) 100vw, 229px" />Figure 15: Self-Portrait. The Night Wanderer, 1923-24 © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/BONO

selvportrett_nattevandreren_digitalt_1  selvportrett_nattevandreren_digitalt_2

Figures 15a–b: Selection of students’ digital paintings

In the self-portraits above, the students have emphasized the vertical window elements from Munch’s painting in the background, and the figure’s placement in the foreground. There is a focus on the leaning and turning motion of the body, the prominent head with dark and direct gaze.

In the twelve paintings discussed above, it is apparent that all of the students have carefully studied the original paintings when posing for their photographs. Evaluations of the workshop completed by teachers and museum educators also reported that students were deeply engaged in the posing activity as part of their creative process. In this sense, interpreting Munch’s art through posing, photographing, and posting a self-portrait in the workshop is, from an art education perspective, based on the same design ‘performative’ principles as the walk-up gallery interactive. The self-portrait photographs served as the basis for making a digital painting, with the students focusing on the Munch ‘original’ to make comparisons and adjust the rendering of backgrounds, use of color, perspective, composition, and not least, emotion. However, the workshop format offered greater opportunity for deeper engagement through creativity, with a more complex task, longer time frame, variation in settings, and richer digital resources. The performative posing acts and the making activities are nonetheless similarly aimed at developing analytic thinking and meaning making in relation to Munch’s art rather than practical art skills. Pringle (2011) notes that in contemporary gallery education, “working with techniques and materials is one way that learners can interrogate how artists use visual language to convey meaning” (p. 240).

6. Summing up

Studies of visitors’ interactions in art museums have identified posing as a unique type of interpretative gesture in meaning making, with intertwining cycles of comparison, focus, and adjustment (Steier, in press). In this paper, we have explored through two case studies the kinds of cognitive and collaborative work that posing may foster when incorporated into designs for interpretive activities in art museums. In doing so, we hope to contribute to the development of theoretically informed design practices in contemporary gallery education, but also to methods of researching actual use by visitors. In Case 1, interaction analysis of video recordings was a method applied from the learning sciences to investigate young people’s engagement with a ‘posing’ gallery interactive; in Case 2, visual analysis of digital paintings produced by workshop participants in three different types of settings was applied, drawing on methods in art history. In sum, ‘pose and post’ was found to be an engaging activity for all of the young people involved in our studies, and supported interpretative processes in encounters with art.

The studies were a result of interdisciplinary collaboration across institutions. An aim of this paper has been to illustrate productive relations between theory and practice, and how these have been mutually beneficial to university (researchers and interaction designers) and museum (curators, educators, communications managers). It is important to point out that the National Museum is also a research-based institution, grounded in art history but in relation to other disciplines, including educational science. Collaboration in CONTACT across institutions and disciplines has produced results that we would not likely have otherwise achieved. For the museum, research outcomes have impacted other aspects of practice, such as plans for mobile tours and other educational technologies, the use of social media as a communication tool on the museum’s website, innovative outreach strategies targeting young people, new visitor studies methods and learning perspectives, and input to the design of gallery spaces for the new landmark museum building currently under development. Learning science researchers have on their part developed a better understanding of how studies, collaborations, and design interventions may be designed to be more relevant to museum practice and disciplinary domains, while also providing insight into the role of museums as social arenas for visitors’ meaning making.


We thank Senior Curator of Education Frithjof Bringager, Director of Old Masters and Modern Art Nils Ohlsen, Janne Fredly, Curator Mai Britt Guleng, Curator of Education Helle Ravn and Ellen Lerberg, and staff members at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design who contributed to this research. We are grateful to all of the students and teachers who agreed to participate in this study. We especially acknowledge Senior Engineer Jeremy Toussaint and EngageLab at InterMedia, University of Oslo for the interaction design of the Munch’s World interactives. The CONTACT project has been funded through the VERDIKT program at The Research Council of Norway.


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Cite as:
. "Posing with Art: Researching and Designing for Performative Acts of Interpretation." MW2014: Museums and the Web 2014. Published February 8, 2014. Consulted .

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