How it Works

How It Works

Art interpretation discussions are meant to be student led, facilitated by teachers rather than teacher directed. To start a discussion, teachers should ask basic questions like, “What do you see?” then encourage evidence-based responses from their students. Teachers should then use follow up questions like “What else do you see,” to encourage students to look deeper at the artwork. To encourage responses from students, teachers should repeat what the student says or write their responses on the board. Repeating what students say when viewing artwork critically will validate their input and give it value. Teachers should continue asking questions, requiring students to back up their responses with facts, staying away from opinions or generic statements. These discussion sessions are ideal when kept between 10-20 minutes; This timeframe is key to keeping students interested and continually engaged in the process. Teachers should remember to ask questions with no one right answer.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you see?

2. What else do you see?

3. What does someone else see?

4. Can anyone add to that?

5. What is going on in this picture?

6. What do you see that makes you think that?

7. What more can we find?

Discussion Tips

1. These questions are meant to be open-ended in order to encourage student responses.

2. Record student answers in some way, either by writing them on the board or a flip chart, in order to motivate students to participate.

3. Keep repeating the question "What do you see?" a few times. There is so much information to find in an artwork, and students need to be encouraged to keep looking.

4. No side conversations.

5. One person speaks at a time, and students need to listen to each other's responses.

6. Encourage students to limit their responses to one thought at a time.

7. Strive for observable answers rather than personal opinions.

8. Instead of students trying to point things out with their fingers, encourage them to point with their words.

9. Try simple games in order to encourage students to look at a painting deeper. For example, go around the room and have students say something about the painting that no one has said before. This encourages a deeper look at the artwork, and students listening to each other's responses.

10. Have fun with this and make it your own, this is meant to be very fluid and organic, if you find something that works better for you and your students, do it!

Discussion Resources:

Barrett, T. (2000). About art interpretation for art education. Studies in Art Education, 42(1), 5-19.

Barrett, T. (1997). Talking about student art (art education in practice). Worchester, MA: Davis Publications.

Barrett, T. (2003). Interpreting visual culture. Art Education, 56(2), 6-12.

Barrett, T. (2003). Improving studio critiques. Retrieved from

Barrett, T. (2004). Improving student dialogue about art. Teaching Artist Journal, 2(2), 87-94. Barrett, T. (2010-2011). The Importance of Teaching Interpretation. FATE in Review, 32, 3-11.

Barrett, T. (2006). Interpretation. Encyclopedia of 20th ce Photography, 2, 803-806.

Housen, A. (2001). Aesthetic thought, critical thinking and transfer. Arts and Learning Journal, 18(1), 99-132.

Yenawine, P. (2013). Visual thinking strategies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.