In Spring and Summer 2021 we collaborated with schools in Fife, West Lothian, and Orkney, where pupils wrote their own labels for some of the highlight artworks of the Scottish collection.
Interpretation is key to creating an engaging experience for gallery and exhibitions visitors. This includes decisions around how objects are shown and displayed as well as how we explain and discuss objects. A gallery label is a form of interpretation as it usually gives us some information on the artist and the context in which the work was created, be that art-historical or social. When interpretation is done well it catches the visitors’ attention and sparks curiosity. To achieve this, museum and gallery professionals must learn what art means to people and how this differs from person to person. This allows us to continuously build new routes to art.
As part of the Scottish National Gallery project, we have engaged with people across Scotland through a variety of community and school activities. One of these was the label writing activity. In Spring/Summer 2021 we collaborated with two schools, one in Fife and the other in West Lothian, asking pupils to write their own labels for some of the highlight artworks of the Scottish collection.
Following the success of these activities and thanks to changes regarding Covid restrictions, in autumn 2021 we were able to take this activity to North Walls Community School on Hoy, Orkney.
To ensure that what we delivered to the school children had a lasting benefit to the school and the local community we worked closely with the Scapa Flow Museum.
The Scapa Flow Museum is based on Hoy and reopened to the public in July 2022 after undergoing a major redevelopment. The museum has a long-standing relationship with the local school and plans to continue involving pupils in the development of the visitor experience and interpretation of new displays. To join up our activity with the local museum’s outcomes we developed and delivered Junior Curator training.
Freya Spoor (Scottish National Gallery Project, Assistant Curator) and Mara Barth (Scottish National Gallery Project, Learning Officer) created a two-day workshop exploring images from the Scottish collection. They discussed likes and dislikes, interests, why and how collections are developed and how we talk about art and museum objects. In the final session the pupils wrote their own labels for a selection of art works. This included the work The Regatta by Orcadian artist Stanley Cursiter.
Whilst in Orkney we also visited Kirkwall Grammar School and invited S1 and S2 pupils to edit a selection of labels written by National Galleries of Scotland curators. We asked them to tell us what they thought should be on the label, what information they felt was missing, what words they did not understand and make suggestions on how they think these labels could be improved and made more interesting to young people in Scotland.
All labels written by primary and secondary school pupils have been shared with the National Galleries of Scotland Interpretation Panel who will use these to inform new interpretation for these works.
A selection of the labels will be displayed alongside the artworks in the new gallery spaces which are currently being created on The Mound in Edinburgh as part of the The Scottish National Gallery Project.
Why not have a go at writing your own label?
First, choose a selection of images from our online collection, you can use the zoom tool to get really close to most of the images.
Maybe you can choose these according to a topic or subject you are currently teaching in your class.
Use the label template below to find out what you can include in your gallery label.
Download the label template as a Word document
Download the label template as a PDF
If you would like to share the labels your class write with us please email [email protected] with the subject line ‘FAO SNG Learning Officer – Label Writing Activity’.
We have some great online resources. See these for ways to start discussing art and thinking about what should be on a label.
How to look at art
We all see things differently. These resources offer simple prompts to start a conversation about any artwork, with learners of all ages.
10 Things to do in an art gallery
Nobody else sees art the way you do. Here are 10 ideas to help you look and start a conversation.
Learning through pictures
Whether you want to introduce a new topic, encourage literacy or personalise learning, art postcards can be used in many ways across the curriculum.
Learning & Engagement contact details
If you're looking for more information on our learning programmes, please get in touch with our team who will be happy to advise and help plan your group visit.
+44 (0)131 624 6410