How do we teach a child to look at art? When showing artworks to my younger students, they often have an immediate reaction to the works. The typical responses are along the lines of “Oh wow! It’s beautiful I love it!” or “What is this? I don’t like it!” There is rarely an in-between. I always enjoy watching their reactions, and it reminds me of how art can evoke a variety of responses. The question is, how do we probe children to understand art beyond their immediate like or dislike?
Project Zero, a long-term intellectual initiative by Harvard University, has a variety of thinking routines that are very helpful in getting children (and adults alike) to look at artworks. One of my favourite thinking routines is called See, Think, Wonder. In looking at the artwork, first, get the child to list what they see, second, what thoughts they have about the work, and lastly, what questions they might have.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 © Neue Galerie New York
It is helpful to frame the looking and thinking about the artwork for the child. Choosing a theme or a focus can help to narrow the scope of thinking. For example, in looking at Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, we could ask our children to examine what the artwork reveals about the figure in the painting. Using the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine, we might ask the following questions:
Children can then be prompted to think about someone they would like to portray and how they might do so thinking about colour, dress, patterns and pose of the person. This thinking routine first lets students look closely at the work, followed by making supported interpretations, and lastly encourages curiosity through getting them to ask what else they might want to know about the work.
Using the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine, children can be prompted to think deeper and understand the work beyond their initial like or dislike. It might also be a way for them to put themselves in the shoes of the figures in the artwork, or to think like artists, making the process of understanding the work more relevant to their lives.
Written by Ting Yan Khor