In the previous post, students looked at a synchronistic painting that illustrates various points of a story simultaneously, allowing the viewer to piece it all together as an illustration of the entire plot. More common than narrative synchronistic paintings, however, are paintings that depict a single scene from a larger story. These paintings can be considered "vignettes" because they focus on a single, isolated moment.
For this activity, I'm pulling a selection of works and accompanying captions from the book "Myths: Tales of the Greek and Roman Gods."
This is a great little book packed with mythological artworks, accompanying narratives, and tips for understanding the symbolism and characterization in the paintings. The book is divided into chapters, some of which include several paintings illustrating different scenes from a single story, in this case: Jupiter (Zeus) and Io.

For this activity, I'm going to present students with the selection of five paintings, one of which has a caption summarizing the entire story and he others that describe individual scenes in more detail. I'm going to ask students to order the paintings according to how the events the illustrate are chronologically ordered in the story. Then, they need to write the story in their own words, dividing the story into five sections, one for each element of plot. Alongside each painting, they need to provide an excerpt from their story that describes what's being illustrated in the image.
What is narrative?

- A story
- A means of conveying morals or lessons
- A means of helping us to understand what it means to be human
- A means of connecting people with one another through shared experiences
- Narratives are inherent to human communication
- Used to illustrate points
- Can apply the lessons of one narrative (fictional or not) to another

The Art of Narrative

- Have recognizable beginnings, middles, and ends
- Follow the plotline: Exposition (conflict introduction), rising action, climax, falling action, denouement (resolution)
- The reader must focus on the present action while still being mindful of the past and its influence as well as anticipating and making predictions for the future
- Careful attention to characterization (motives, desires, personality, flaws, and how they're a reflection of certain human traits)
- Address themes and morals to communicate meaning to the audience that they can apply to their own understanding of themselves and the world
- Leave room open for interpretation of he work
- Employ figurative language for the sake of both craftsmanship and meaning-making (metaphor, symbolism, imagery, tone, mood)
Activity: The Smithsonian's "Myths in Words and Pictures"

- Send students to
- Under "Myth 1", have students click on "Explore the online interactives"
- Once there, have the students complete the first activity, "Symbols in Art: Who's Who?"
- Create a hand-out for students to submit while completing the Smithsonian activities. For the symbols in art interactive, ask students to: "Summarize how Te Smithsonian defines symbolism. Make sure to summarize information from the entire passage, not just the first paragraph.
- Have students move on to the "Symbols in a Story: What's What?" Interactive. Have them read through the introduction and add to their definition of symbolism.
- Handout question: "What does it mean for a painting to be synchronistic?"
- Have students read the story and complete a t-chart of symbols and potential meanings. Encourage students to first try and identify the meaning on their own and then google the meaning of the different symbols.
- Have students diagram the plot of the story
- Then have them look at the painting and describe how different images represent different plot stages
- Have students read through the symbolism captions on the painting. Afterwards, have students reflect on how the captions helped them to better understand the meaning of the story.
- Follow up this activity by asking students to select a synchronistic painting and labeling the symbols with their own captions. Also have them briefly summarize the different plot stages of the story.
New to the city and looking for enriching things to do, I came across the site Connect Savannah.  On its home page, it has an events calendar of music, arts, and culture.  Last night was the kick-off of deFINE Art, a weeklong event of lectures and exhibitions featuring contemporary art.  We attended the Jack Whitten lecture at the SCAD Museum of Art and then attended the reception afterwards and viewed his exhibit "Erasures" in one of the museum galleries.

I purchased this book upon recommendation from a friend and colleague who wanted someone to talk about it with and wanted an English teacher’s perspective on the work.   I can’t say I was a great choice for a book club partner, given that it took me many, many months to finish the 900 page book.  From March until Christmas, I’d only read about 300 pages; I finished the remainder of the book in the last three weeks.  I wrapped up 2666 last night and the ending was not what I’d expected.  In fact, the entire book wasn’t what I expected.  I don’t mean in terms of what I expected from looking at the cover or reading the book blurb.  I mean that the book didn’t fit the traditional bill of what a novel is.  Perhaps in an effort to let the reader know this difference was intentional, Bolano, through his characters, alluded several times to what makes great literature and that literature doesn’t have to follow the typical formula to be a masterpiece.  In fact, in Bolano’s opinion, any that do follow the traditional formula are just retellings of other, better literature.  Bolano values originality, a trait that also defines 2666 and its writing style, qualities that made the book so highly-acclaimed.

I've finished curating the content for my "Art as Play" unit.  My Arts History class compromises of a small group of girls in 11th and 12th grade.  A lot of the content in this unit is quite girlish and youthful, which the girls probably won't mind it, but for the sake of balance and comprehensiveness, I need more variety in future units.

As second semester approaches, I need to start pulling together my curriculum for my online classes.  Ideas for Arts History have been stewing away for weeks, and where I approached first semester chronologically from the Middle Ages through turn-of-the-century Realism, second semester will be broken down by function of the arts.  The unit I'm most inspired to explore right now is the idea of "Art as Play."  I've already reflected on this some with artists Oliver Herring and Leo Villareal.  But because this is an arts history class, I need resources from across the spectrum, and here's what's stewing as of now:


Oliver Herring: Using TASK to construct a creative, productive play time.  Interactive, ever-evolving.  It's never the same experience twice.  The people involved set the tasks and choose how to execute them.  I also want to look at his paint splat portraits.  Who's playing in that situation?  Herring?  The participant?  In what way is the viewer playing by viewing the artwork?  Because it draws out a chuckle?  Because the narrative told by the portrait is so spontaneous and silly and absurd?  Is it about the inter"play" between the artist, the subject, the work, and the viewer?
Oliver Herring
Leo Villareal: His works are a feast for the eyes.  They’re spectacles.  Why view them?  Because they’re fun, indulgent, transporting, etc.  They draw you in.  Sharing a space with a Villareal work is like playing.  It’s like a circus or night club or light show.  And all his works are are lights and colors and shapes and the sequence that things light up.  But they’re so much more than that.  It makes me question our emotional attachment to light and color and how Villareal “plays” to that.  His works definitely create a mood, but he seems deliberate in creating a fanciful, playful mood for his viewers to frolic through.  
Leo Villareal
assume vivid astro focus – This team uses bright, bold colors and neons.  It uses sexually imagery in a playful, cheeky way without it being offensive or obscene.  They “play” with taboo much like Shakespeare and other wordsmiths “play” with language and innuendo and puns and double-entendres.  avaf creates works that are festival-party-show-events and bring in the public to participate and bask in the spectacle of colors, lights, sounds, and performances.  They create these worlds for people to play in.  The viewer moves from spectator to player in these universes avaf creates.
assume vivid astro focus
assume vivid astro focus
What about artists who make more political statements…who play with norms and turn them on their heads?  In other words – artists who work in the carnivalesque.  How about Walton Ford who takes Audobon imagery and “corrupts” it with violent imagery?  He’s playing with traditional depictions of nature that are so sterile or neutral or peaceful and turns them on their head by inserting Hobbes-like references to the brutality and savagery of nature.
Walton Ford
Walton Ford
Kara Walker does something similar with her depictions of the Antebellum south.  She takes this traditional imagery of charm and grace and genteelism and inserts violence and troubling sexual imagery.  Her images play – though darkly – with how media “remembers” Southern history.
Kara Walker
Cao Fei is another artist who deals with play, though she did so literally by playing Second Life and creating this other, virtual life for herself.  Looking at video games as play is something to think about as well…
Cao Fei
Next, I need to consider literature, architecture, and music.  Things to keep cooking in that brain of mine: Shakespeare; puns and slippery language (look at book titles and propaganda); Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead; Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me (rhymes, news quiz); and John Stewart and Steven Colbert and how they play with politics.
I often use visual art to teach concepts like symbolism, mood, motif, tone, metaphor, and other literary devices. Once they have a gist for defining the concepts, they begin applying their learning by analyzing both images and written text. While at ArtPrize, I viewed a work whose title got me thinking about more innovative ways to teach about puns and wordplay...and using art and images to teach these literary concepts.
"Old Tired Crow" by Nick Jakubiak is a pun on the material, tires, used to make the crow. If it wasn't made of tires, the title wouldn't be a pun, as the viewer would just assume the crow was tired, or sleepy. But because puns have a double-meaning, we assume the crow is both tired and made of tires. Haha!
I am an avid NPR listener, so much so that I even stay tuned during the pledge drives. During this most recent one, one of their donation gifts was the "Nina Totin' Bag." Horribly cheese-a-rific, it's a pun on NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. It's a pun, because with Nina's face on it, it's her in bag form. And it is, in fact, a tote bag. Unfortunately for her, I heard that gift name so many times during that pledge segment, that I now misspeak and call her Nina "Totenbag."
This is a screenshot of a story I heard yesterday whose title was an excellent example of wordplay. The title is "One for the Books." Like any good play on words, the title has various meanings, all of which are well-suited to the content of the article. The title could refer to the article's subject, an avid reader and writer named Joe Queenan. His love of literature makes him "one for the books." The title could also refer to the 7,000 books he's read in his lifetime, a number that's so impressive it's "one for the books."

You can read the entire article here:

What I'm envisioning for a lesson on puns and wordplay is assembling a collection of contemporary artworks, current news stories with playful titles and passages, and other pun-ny pop culture references, and rolling it out as a whole class, talking through each one, one-by-one. It would generate a lot of discussion, and, once they get a feel for it, laughs. The students will be impressed with how clever they are for getting the joke, and it might make reading more enjoyable as they'll be on the lookout for playful, slippery language. This activity could prep you for identifying and analyzing wordplay in the texts you read and inspire students to start using it in their own writing and speech.
This Wednesday, I attended a workshop at the University of Michigan Museum of Art on a painting by Benjamin West:
During the workshop, I noted different strategies employed by the docents and speakers to “teach” us about the art and recorded strategies for using art – as well as general teaching strategies - in the English and/or Social Studies classroom:

1) If you’re using a painting to illustrate a historic event you’re studying or to give historic context to a work of literature you’re teaching, project the image of the artwork and give a mini-lecture on the history behind the work.  Also show a map of the relevant region and talk discuss the region’s relationship with the rest of the world and relevant cultural information.

2) Structure lectures in a Q&A format.  State the question and then answer it.

3) As an introduction to a historic events, show students a historic painting that illustrates the event and talk about the events that led up to the one depicted in the artwork.  Instead of telling students the details of the event, have them make predictions about what’s going to happen based on the artwork and the info you’ve given them on the events leading up to the topic you’re studying.  Then, teach the actual details of the event.  Afterwards, have students compare what actually happened to their predictions.  Also show the artwork again and have students identify what they’ve learned by pointing to particular things in the artwork.

4) To hook students’ interest before studying a particular work, project it alongside a quote that speaks to its legacy or makes a provocative statement about it.  You can project the text of the quote or introduce a lecture by speaking the quote aloud.

5) The exhibit consisted of several artworks – portraits, maps, writings, etc – centered on a single topic: General Wolf.  Also posted in the exhibit were large quotes printed on the wall.  These could be quotes from soldiers’ diaries, quotes from historians, quotes from artists who depicted the subject, etc.  I recommend giving students a “gallery” experience regarding a particular subject by presenting them with a variety of works, including quotes or literary passages, that all comment on a particular event.  Students can then synthesize the information to develop a comprehensive understanding of the subject.  They’ll notice patterns but also contradictions which will raise questions and drive their thinking deeper.

6) When looking at portraits, consider if they’re “vignettes” or more complex narratives.  When I say vignette, I mean a portrait that captures a single, focused moment.  There’s one thing going on that you’re meant to focus on.  Other portraits have various things going on in the image simultaneously.  PROJECT IDEA: If you’re having students create a self-portrait or portrait of a character to show their understanding of identity, motives, emotion, thoughts, and goals, consider having them integrate multiple images into a composite portrait.  It’ll be interesting to deconstruct and then reconstruct t in a character analysis.

7) When studying the historic facts alongside an artwork that portrays the event, look for accuracies and inaccuracies between the history and the art-story.  You could also teach vocabulary alongside this  - things like contradiction, paradox, objective vs. subjective, portrayal, etc.

8) Look at multiple works that tell varying narratives about a particular event.  You could study tone and consider why the artists portrayed the event differently.  You can also talk about artists and artists in terms of reliability.  How do we know what’s true?  Can fiction make a true statement?  How do we piece together contradictory information to draw the most accurate conclusion?

9) Why do authors/artists make changes, additions, and deletions to their characterization of something?

10) The intersection of portrait and idealization.  Are realistic works like landscapes and portraits more than representations of something?  In what ways are they “re-presentations”, or produced and constructed and skewed, representations of something?  Why do this?

11) Historic paintings are often a combination of depicting anatomy, architecture, documenting the landscape, etc.

12) Instead of showing the artwork in its entirety, crop a few images out of it, showing them to students one-at-a-time.  Have students analyze each image on its own and have them try to piece together what they think the larger image looks like and is about.  Then, show the entire artwork and have students reflect on what’s similar/different that what they expected and how their understanding of the work has evolved.  Doing this makes reading the image more like reading a book.  With a book, things are handed to you in disconnected bits and pieces.  You, as the reader, have to piece things together as you read.  It doesn’t all come together until you finish the book.

13) On a museum visit, gallery walk, or online image exploration, have students seek out a work that illustrates a scene or the relationship between characters in a work you’re reading.  Have students draw parallels between what they see in the artwork and their reading.  This requires analysis of written text and visual imagery and also requires synthesis to draw the parallels.  It’s a nice higher level learning idea.

This work, "Making Rainbows" by Lynnea Strout stopped me in front of its display window as Kyle and I meandered around ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. I was initially drawn to the colors: I love pastels. They're sweet and playful. And I loved how the paint was splattered on the canvas, as though the silhouetted boy was blowing the paint bubbles onto the canvas in real time. To me, the silhouetted boy could be any boy, or any child, a symbol of our childhoods and simple pleasures. Life seemed so adventurous. We were so curious. So imaginative. Life was vibrant with opportunities and mysteries and games. This painting captures that idealized portrait of childhood for me.

The painting evokes a playful mood, but I would imagine the process of creating it was a form of play for the artist. The messy paint splattered everywhere. Blowing the bubbles. Channeling one's inner child. Creating. Playing.

It's visual cotton candy. Simple, sweet, and full of whimsy. But it's also a transportive work that made me think back on playing skip-it, dancing around with my little ponies, coloring with sidewalk chalk, and pretending I was a mermaid, splashing around in the tub with goggles on.

On the ArtPrize website, Strout says of her work: "I'm hoping that when people see this piece they will remember the happiness they felt when they were little and loved making their own rainbows." She definitely succeeded in doing so for me.
Last Saturday Kyle and I took a day trip to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize.  I spent a few hours on their website in the days leading up to Saturday, scrolling through the image gallery and reading the different artist statements.  You can create an online account to build collections of artworks you want to see during your visit.  I only wish you could organize your collections by location/neighborhood because it’s highly likely that your collection will include works from all over the city and that one day just won’t be enough time to see everything in your collection.  You can also vote for your favorite works, and the winner is rewarded with a large cash prize.

I will say ArtPrize has gone to great lengths to involve the public in the event.  Many of the works are outside or on display in business windows, meaning you can view the art during a stroll downtown.  You can go online, read about a particular work, and link a facebook update or tweet to the artwork’s page.  Plus, you get to vote on the winner.  You have a voice in awarding the “art prize.”  I love that the event is so community-focused.  Oftentimes, interacting with art is intimidating: visiting museums and galleries and going on guided tours doesn’t appeal to everyone.  Those art experiences are sometimes so centered on talking about technique and meaning and process that it makes viewing art seem like work.  Some people love it; but not everyone.  What’s so special about ArtPrize is that, yes, some of the art provokes a lot of discussion about technique, and meaning, and process.  But some of the art is also just fun, engaging to look at, fantastical, silly, playful, etc.  There’s really something for everyone – kids and adults, guys and gals, and both art-lovers and inexperienced art viewers.

While I had several artworks on my collection “list” to view, we only ended up seeing two of the works in person.  And that ended up being just fine.  We spent most of the day just wandering around and happening upon artworks.  While it was great being able to research a few select works that I was really interested in viewing and thinking about, it was also great being surprised by artworks at every shop window and corner.  It made for a cheap day-trip.  All we paid for was the gas money to drive out to Grand Rapids and for lunch.  But for free, we got several hours of seeing downtown and talking about all of the great art.

 Below are photos from our excursion.  Over the course of the next week or so, I’ll post individual artworks and talk about their different classroom applications.  The ArtPrize website is awesome in that it provides images of the artworks along with artist statements.  So even if you don’t go to ArtPrize, you can still view the works, build a collection, and use the images and artist statements in your teaching.  You could even have your students go online and curate a collection based on a particular theme, technique, medium, mood, process, etc.  Yay for FREE art resources!

"Fantastic Carousel of Dreams" by Jennifer Rutherford

"Norm" by John Andrews

"Making Rainbows" by Lynnea Strout

"Floral Flourish" by Donna Engstrom

"Bird Feeder" by Tom Sheerin

"Old Tired Crow" by Nick Jakubiak

    About Me

    A lover of literature and the arts and an advocate for global awareness and active citizenship, I spend my days with high school English and Social Studies students exploring why it all matters and how they can have a voice in the world.  This is my space to document and reflect on my practice, note happenings in education, and share my appreciation for the arts.


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