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HOW TO HAVE AN ARTFUL CONVERSATION
by JANAAN REYNOLDS

The following guide is intended to help the non-art teacher lead a discussion about the paintings used in Combining Voices. It is a general guide and may be used with any work of art. Since the goal of this discussion is to provoke student response, we suggest that you do not state the artist's name, the title of the artwork, or any other information until after the students have engaged in careful looking and thoughtful discussion about their discoveries. Your role is to focus the student's attention on the painting and force them past a superficial reading of it. The activity can be varied so that it may be used with the whole class, several small groups, or individually as a written exercise. I have estimated the time each step takes though this, of course, could vary greatly.

  1. First Response
    Have the students look quietly at the artwork for a moment. Ask them to write the first words that come into their minds. What is the mood of the artwork? How does it make you feel? Go through this first step quickly. (1 to 3 minutes)

  2. Exploration
    This step takes more time and is designed to stimulate careful looking. Ask them to describe what they see in the painting. Push them to see more by asking, "What else do you see?" or "Tell me more about that." Another good question is, "Describe that for me." (5 to 10 minutes)

  3. Discovery
    Now that they have explored the objects in the painting, ask the students interpretive questions about the artwork. Have them look at the design and composition of the artwork. Good questions are, "How do the colors (lines, shapes, or textures) affect the mood of the artwork?" and "How does the space created by the artist make you feel?"

    To interpret the action in the picture you might ask, "What is happening?" To analyze the setting ask, "Where could this be?" Ask them to justify their answers. Ask, "What makes you think that? How can you tell? How do you know?"

    Continue asking questions so that they construct a body of information about the painting. At the end of the discussion reveal the name of the artist, the title of the painting, and any other relevant facts about it. Ask if this information changes their interpretation of the painting. (10 to 15 minutes).

  4. Summary
    Ask students to recall their first response to the painting. Have their ideas changed? How? Why?

    Lead them to tie the loose ends of the discussion together by summarizing their discoveries. Encourage them not to "close the door" on new discoveries about the artwork. Let it generate new ideas as they think about it. (5 to 10 minutes)

  5. Making Connections
    In this important last step students should relate the painting to their own lives. Inquire whether or not the painting reminds them of anything in their lives or something they have seen before. Does it remind them of something that happened or a story they have heard? (5 minutes)

 

"Col. Poole's Pig Hill of Fame" by John Baeder
John Baeder, Col. Poole's Pig Hill of Fame, 1995. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.



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