One 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 duck art 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.
Once they see this image of Hofman’s giant rubber duck art in Osaka, the conversation changes. Is this art? Why or why not? Woah. Students turn and talk again about this rubber duck art. Has their opinion changed? If the little rubber duck art 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!
Amy Traggianese has been an elementary visual arts educator in CT since 1995. A former kindergarten and first grade teacher, she has over 30 years of arts integration experience. Amy specializes in integrating language arts, math, science and technology into the choice art studio. She is a writer, arts integration coach and community manager for Education Closet. Amy is an active educator voice on Facebook and Twitter and loves a good Twitter chat. Connect with her on social media or at [email protected].