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What is going on in this picture?

Posted on July 14, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Brooke Rogers

This past week I had the incredible opportunity to virtually meet and collaborate with art educators from around the globe, thanks to attending the National Gallery of Art’s Online Summer Institute. Throughout the week, I was introduced to new methods for getting students and other learners to think critically about art with evidence and reason. Each of the sessions I attended helped me to put into context how crucial the ability to look closely at visual materials is. Reasoning to make interpretations and evaluations from observations is something that any learner can benefit from and can help us all to better understand the diverse cultural world we live in.

Please help me to put my learnings into practice by engaging with me in a discussion about this week’s featured artwork in the comment section below.

Look closely at the picture and follow the three prompts:

1. What is going on in this artwork? Write down at least five descriptions of what’s going on in this picture. Once you have written five descriptions try to challenge yourself by writing five more descriptions.
2. After you have generated your list of ten descriptions, think about what you see in the image that made you list those descriptions. Write down your thoughts in the comments.
3. Now that you have identified specific aspects of this image, what does this image make you wonder about. Jot your thoughts in the comments below.

Visual Literacy is a creative, learner-centered and research based teaching method that uses works of art to enable viewers to observer, think, wonder and communicate. Its approach builds awareness through art, develops critical thinking skills, expands language ability and improves academic achievement.

More About Visual Literacy
Visual Literacy is a method of engaging students and adult learners with artwork when they are in the museum or classroom by asking three open-ended questions:

What is going on in this artwork?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What does this make you wonder about?

If students or visitors make an inference in giving their responses to the first question and do not back up their statement, then we ask the second question. What do you see that makes you say that? This allows viewers the opportunity to articulate their thinking and observations while supporting it with evidence. The final question implies that there are still answers to be sought, which promotes inquiry, and reminds us that no one has all the answers. Visual Literacy promotes research in the classroom and museum space often concerning the artist’s technique, method or underlying concepts. This type of thinking transfers across curricula because learners develop the habit of higher-level thinking and back up their findings with evidence.

Visual Literacy supports the open-ended, learner-centered instruction that is integral to best practices in current pedagogy. Classroom analyses have stressed the importance of encouraging student-centered critical thinking, as opposed to traditional or generic “right/wrong” answers, in the growth of significant cognitive development in participants.

Visual Literacy is a powerful tool that promotes cooperation, respect, and tolerance for various viewpoints. National evaluations have quantified improvements among participants in general learning, including reading, writing, and math skills. A continued focus on specific key elements of the Visual Literacy methodology ensures the success and continued improvement of current and future University Museums programs.

I cannot wait to hear your interpretation of this week’s work of art!

~ Brooke Rogers, Interpretation Specialist

IMAGE ABOVE: Detail from Iowa's Bounty: Corn, Pig, Soy, 2005 by Sue Cornelison. Located in the Human Nutritional Science Building. Commissioned in honor of the retirement of Professor Murray L. Kaplan, emeritus professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition; with funding contributions from faculty, students and staff of the colleges of Family and Consumer Sciences and Agriculture; the Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition; the Nutritional Sciences Council; and, the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition. University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

IMAGE BELOW: The other two paintings in the Iowa's Bounty: Corn, Pig, Soy.

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