Talking about art with kids and getting them to look closely at images is second nature to me. I do it so often that I don’t even really know what I say anymore. Unfortunately, that means that I rarely have a good answer for the parents who so often ask me how they can better engage their kids in interacting with works of art. So, after meaning to write this post for the last 4 or 5 years, I finally sat down to think about what it is that I actually do when I chat with kids.
The interesting thing I realized, is that that I really only ask variations of 6 questions. Without a lot of filtering or organization, here are those 6 favorite questions to ask when talking about art with kids, along with the extensions of those questions that I use to keep the kids engaged when looking at artwork.
When was this created?
- What else was happening in the world then?
- Does knowing about the history of this time period change your understanding of this piece?
- What style is this image (landscape, portrait, mobile, etc.) and was that common at this time?
- Do you know what art movement this fits into?
- Where is it now and how did it get there?
- What does this piece teach us about the past/future?
What is the artist depicting?
- What did the artist title the piece?
- Do you like the title?
- Does this image make sense to you?
- If you could name it yourself, what would you pick?
- What does this image represent to you?
- Is there movement in this piece?
- Is this an image of something real, imaginary, or something else?
- Where in the piece is your eye first drawn?
- Can you describe the use of space (balance) in this piece?
- What was happening before/after this image took place?
- Can you find any symbols or secret clues in this image?
Who created this piece?
- What else did he/she create?
- Where were they living at this time? Do you think that impacted their work?
- Was this created as a commission (was the subject dictated to the artist)?
- What was this artist best known for?
- If you could ask this artist a question, what would it be?
- How do you think the artist was feeling when they made this image?
- Would you enjoy seeing more images by this artist?
- If you could hear this piece, would the artist be yelling or whispering?
How was this image made?
- Without researching it, can you determine what medium (graphite, oil paint, watercolors, etc.) was used?
- Can you guess all of the supplies used to create this piece?
- Have you worked with this medium before?
- How long do you think it took the artist to create this piece?
- Can you think of any other artists who used this medium?
- What size is the artwork? Why is that important?
- Can you describe the colors and textures that this medium allows?
- If you could work with this medium, what type of image would you want to create?
What is your reaction to this work?
- What is your first thought?
- Does it put you into a specific mood? Why?
- What does this image remind you of?
- What colors speak to you most in this image?
- Describe the composition (line, texture, focal point, etc.) and describe why it is/isn’t pleasing.
- How has the artist used light in their work?
- Are some images clearer/blurrier than others?
- Does your opinion of this piece change after looking at it for a while?
- Can you close your eyes and describe this piece? Were your words positive or negative?
- What is the most boring part of this image? Surprising? Exciting?
- If you could make one change to this piece, what would it be?
What is the purpose of this piece?
- What did the artist have to say about this piece?
- Was this piece created to be art, or for some other purpose?
- Where is it now?
- Is there a connection between the materials/methods used and the subject matter?
- Who might be a buyer for artwork like this?
- What are other people saying about this piece.
- What can we learn by looking at this piece?
- What did the artist choose not to include in this image?
- What makes this piece valuable?
Talking About Art
It doesn’t need to be structured or even well thought out. We all learned the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How rule of questions in elementary school. When in doubt, just work your way through those questions, and don’t worry too much about getting to deep truths or “right” answers. The goal is to look intently, and enjoy the process. Correct answers aren’t necessary.
Don’t have a museum trip planned soon? Pick up a coffee table book such as Louvre: All the Paintings (affiliate link) to look through together, or check out my favorite online resources for teaching art and enjoy famous images from the comfort of your own home.