Coming ‘Face to Face with the People who Shaped Scotland’: Portrait Galleries, Creative Writing and the Pedagogical Dynamism of the Portrait Image

Shari Sabeti


Museum education literature has paid surprisingly little attention to the distinctiveness of portrait galleries or portraits as a genre, despite the fact that they provide ‘powerful spaces for pedagogy’ (Hooper-Greenhill 2020: 24). Taking an ethnographic approach, this article offers a detailed analysis of such pedagogies at work in one creative writing class based at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It describes two pedagogical regimes – the institution’s and the guide’s – and explores how they compete to frame the portraits in different ways. Focusing on two specific portraits, and the creative writing produced in response to them, it argues that while the portrait gallery’s implied pedagogy insists on the subject in the portrait, the class tutor focuses on the portrait as object. Employing Hans Belting’s theory of images (2011), the article concludes that there is a distinctive pedagogical dynamism inherent in the portrait genre, which can be mined for different educational purposes.


portrait gallery, pedagogy, Belting, ethnography, creative writing

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Copyright (c) 2023 Shari Sabeti

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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