How to Use Art in the Classroom

Before students can begin connecting the artwork to literature they have to have a thorough knowledge of the image itself.  An easy way to do this is to ask them to apply the SMEARS acronym profiled on Tuesday.  Depending on the ability level of the students and the difficulty of the image, students might need to work in groups or answer questions to help them complete the acronym.  Then, after they have a firm understanding of the image, you can incorporate the texts suggested yesterday

The Dream, 1932 by Pablo Picasso

One way to connect literature to a piece of artwork is to ask students to really focus on argument, the “A” in the SMEARS acronym.  Ask students to really
examine what is being revealed socially, culturally, ethically, or politically in the image.  Then, provide them with a text that has a similar topic and ask them to consider the degree to which the image and text differ.  For example, yesterday I suggested pairing Pablo Picasso’s The Dream with Catcher in the Rye.  After studying the implicit argument of both pieces, students might argue that the subject of The Dream seems more at peace with the inner conflict than Holden Caulfield.  While both pieces address internal struggles, Picasso suggests a sense of comfort in knowing oneself, while Salinger portrays Caulfield as someone who is constantly searching for his true identity, restricting his ability to receive comfort.Another, more literal, way to connect a piece of artwork to a piece of literature is to begin class asking students to list events that happened to a character in their reading the night before.  Then, next to each event, determine what trait or quality about the character is revealed through the event.  Similar to the above activity, this allows students to begin to link the two pieces implicitly. By asking students to think about the attributes of a character they are able to consider how the “S,” or speaker in the acronym, of the image relates.

Another strategy is to ask students to annotate the image itself.  Begin by placing each image on a piece of butcher paper.  Ask students to use a marker and annotate the image reflecting each stage of the SMEARS.  After conducting a thorough SMEARS of the piece of artwork, ask students to use a different color margin and annotate their image for details from the plot.  This will encourage them to think more metaphorically about what each plot details could actually signify.  And, while the artist did not create the painting with your assigned text in mind, students will be able to see the ways in which similar ideas can be communicated in different mediums.

For a more advanced class, ask them to consider the rhetorical composition of an image.  We often ask our students to examine the structure and composition of a text, why not do the same with an image?  Provide students with a passage from their reading.  Ask them to identify literary and rhetorical devices within the passage and consider how they contribute to an argument of the text.  Then, give the students a painting with a correlating subject or argument.  Have the students think about what the artistic equivalent of their literary or rhetorical device might be.  For example, if the students identified repetition in the passage ask them to find an example of repetition in the painting.  However, the key is that they have to be able to defend that the repetition in the painting has the same impact or effect as the repetition in the passage.  Merely asking them to identify similar elements is really only encouraging surface-level analysis.  Extend this by asking them to identify similar elements with similar effects in both works.

Lastly, provide students two passages from their text and one painting.  Have them hone their synthesis skills by considering what idea or concept links all three pieces together.  This will require them to have a deep knowledge of the passages and the painting.  It will also encourage them to think more analytically to find a successful connection.  I would recommend at least three pieces total; however, you could mix it up and provide students with two images and one passage or incorporate a third text from an outside source.

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