Monday 31 July 2023

Philosophy in Public Spaces at the National Gallery of Victoria

The Year 9 Philosophy Club took part in an inspiring excursion at the National Gallery of Victoria, organised by the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS). The Philosophy in Public Spaces event is aimed at nurturing profound thinking in students. Under the guidance of VAPS facilitators, students engaged in Community of Inquiry discussions, using various works of art in the NGV as stimuli. This unique discussion style encourages students to collaboratively explore and contemplate questions, issues and ideas to foster a deeper and more critical understanding.

Themed Diversity, nature, and us, the day began with students forming mixed-school groups, prompting them to examine chosen artworks from different perspectives. They delved into the historical context of the pieces and contrasted them with contemporary ideals. Through this process, they identified the central big ideas present in the artwork and collectively pondered several philosophical questions.

The philosophical inquiries our students contemplated included:

  • Should good art stimulate our eyes or our mind?
  • What makes it okay to judge art?
  • Can we judge the morals of an artist or different time periods through art?
  • How do our beliefs shape our experience?
  • How are new ideas born, and do they destroy the old ones, or expand upon them?
  • What material possessions do different cultures value, and why?

The culmination of the day’s activities was the presentation of each group’s “big idea” to all students and staff attending the excursion. This platform provided an excellent opportunity for our students to share their insights and philosophical thoughts cultivated throughout the day.

Student reflections on their experience:

Reflecting on our philosophy excursion to the NGV, it was an experience filled with unique and thought-provoking experiences. Though we examined many artworks, the last of our group was the one that left the biggest impression on me; being the Reflection Model, a sculpture of a Shinto temple that seems to be mirrored along the base, with a seemingly perfect double underneath, a representation of a religion that strives towards bringing humans to live in harmony with nature, as reflected by the sculpture. However, our exploration of this principle revealed some intriguing flaws in our later discussions’ critical tenets of Shintoism. One of the primary questions that emerged from my examination was, How can one co-exist with nature if we have separated ourselves from it? which in it itself challenged the notion of harmony, as it brought to light the ironic idea that humans, in their quest for progress and civilization, have distanced themselves from nature through buildings like the Shinto temple itself, leading to further contemplation of the consequences of this separation and its impact on our relationship with the natural world, which included: What makes a human, inherently human? and Should humanity strive towards harmony with nature, or avoid it?. Overall, the day spent engaging in profound philosophical discussions was a unique and thought-provoking experience that gave us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.’

Young, Year 9

‘I enjoyed going to the NGV as I was given the opportunity to improve my understanding of artworks and look deeper into each piece – an activity I wouldn’t typically engage in when visiting art museums on my own. I also liked exchanging ideas on the art pieces with the other students from other schools, which left me eager to understand what the artist was thinking when making the artwork.’

Lily, Year 9

‘Splitting up into mixed-school groups allowed us to share philosophical ideas with other like-minded students whom we have never spoken with before. Some ideas that we thought of included: Is beauty in the eye of the beholder or creator? And for what reason did the artist create this piece of work? – for simple aesthetic pleasure or is there a deeper meaning to the piece? It was a truly inspiring workshop to be a part of and I hope there are many more excursions like this one.’

Jahnavi, Year 9

The excursion served to enrich our students’ understanding of art and philosophy and honed their ability to think critically and collaboratively.