Is a Rubber Duck Art?

By | 2016-10-29T11:34:57+00:00 October 15th, 2015|

rubber duckOne of my favorite things to do is ask my elementary students, “What is Art?” To start this particular conversation, I actually hold a little rubber duckie in my hand and ask, “Is this art? Why or why not?” and I have the children turn and talk. During most art days, my students create art, but it is important to think about and talk about art too. Yes, we do look at fine art and learn about many of artists who have their paintings or sculptures in museums… but when I show a little duck like this to my students and ask, “Is this art?” it starts a stimulating conversation. We discuss how they probably have one (or more than one) at home, the colors, what it is made of, the people who made it in a factory and the artists who designed it. Some students believe it is art and some do not. Then, comes the fun part! I show them one of Florentijn Hofman’s ducks.

Osaka duckOnce they see this image of Hofman’s giant duck in Osaka, the conversation changes. Is this art? Why or why not? Woah. Students turn and talk again about this duck. Has their opinion changed? If the little duck isn’t art, is this big one art? (And vice versa) Many questions are raised as well: Who made it? Why is it so big? How was it made? Why?

Images like this can be humorous and thought provoking, they can engage students and get them thinking and speaking about what they see, what they know and what they want to know. Thought provoking images can be used as lesson and discussion starters in any classroom, in any subject. It is terrific fun to kick start a lesson with an engaging image and task like this, it is something which really gets your group thinking. I have used unusual images as an art making prompt, teachers could use an image to start creation of  visual art, music, movement, writing… the ideas are endless.

Here is another one of my favorite images I have shown to students, created by artist Mike Ross:


Cool, huh? It is SO interesting to watch student faces when they first see this image. Turning and talking can get very exciting, all the kids want to say something or ask something about this one!

It’s a truck, but wait… it is two trucks… and they are stuck together? And it stands up? Is it a sculpture? Can you go in it? How does it stand up? Will it fall over? Is this art?

And if this sounds like fun, it is, but looking at and analyzing images is important for students to practice. Scattered throughout the Common Core State Standards for reading informational text are references to illustrations, so students need to practice looking, talking about, thinking and describing what they see. Here are just a few, kindergarten to twelfth grade:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.K.7 With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.1.7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

What are your ideas for using thought provoking images in the classroom? I’d love to hear them!


About the Author:

Amy Traggianese is an elementary visual arts educator and has been an art essentialist at a Connecticut Higher Order Thinking (HOT) School since 2001. A former kindergarten and first grade teacher, she has over 25 years of arts integration experience. Amy specializes in integrating language arts, math, science and technology into the art curriculum. She presents at local and national conferences and at HOT School Summer Institutes. Amy is also an active educator voice on Twitter, helps to facilitate #CTedu on Tuesday nights, and loves to connect with other educators through social media.

  • Loved this one Amy- So accessible as a standards based way to connect with multiple curriculum content areas. Have an idea of an SI workshop 🙂 Let’s talk!

    • Amy Traggianese

      Thanks, Amy! Students get so excited about these kinds of images and really have to think before they talk, can’t wait to discuss this with you!

  • Gwen

    What a great concept for a class discussion.. and a good opinion piece writing prompt! I used to teach Art at a community college in London England.. and my favorite field trip was a morning at the Tate Britain and the afternoon at the Tate Modern.. and comparing and contrasting the works of art in each collection. I loved how the students were engaged and developed strong opinions in their discussion of “what is Art?”. Many of the modern art pieces at the Tate Modern are quite controversial.. where as everyone could agree about the things at the Tate Britain. It was an enjoyable activity the following class to work up a definition as to “what is Art?”.. and attempting to come to a general consensus with room for differing opinions. One of my favorite examples is the Turner Prizing winning Martin Creed Work Number 227 (look it up).. it’s a light switch on the wall of an empty gallery that turns the lights on and off. That’s it. Currently valued at £110,000! Is that Art? Some obviously think so. 🙂

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