When you make an artwork, I’ve always felt that you need to create some sort of hook of fascination in the work that the viewer latches onto quickly and that will hold them long enough to take a proper, more considered view. Good lesson material is similar, in that you need to catch the learner’s attention, once you have that you then take them to the content that you want them to encounter and understand. Below is an example of such an approach.
Over the years I have written a large amount of lesson material, my OneDrive and the various websites that I have created are full of it. One of the problems that arises with this is that you sometimes forget or overlook something that you made at some point that was good material and worked well. I rediscovered this week exactly such an example.
With the twelve-year-olds that I teach I include a series of lessons that are centred around Renaissance and Northern Renaissance themes. For our practical lessons we look at one-point perspective and we make a clay monster inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. The “forgotten” lesson material though was a little art history lesson based around the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1563. I´m not required to teach anything about this particular painting, it certainly isn’t in a fixed curriculum. This is simply about encouraging pupils to look and to think carefully about pieces of art, trying to show them that art history doesn’t have to be a dry and stuffy place.
The Tower of Babel is great for this. It has a simple story that is not difficult to understand, it is painted in a very realistic way, but above all, it is packed full of action and detail. It is this level of detail that is the vehicle for this simple language and art history assignment.
Basically, my aim is threefold:
- Get the pupils to look carefully and in detail at the artwork
- Ask them to create language output inspired by the discoveries they make in the artwork
- Create a fun and playful way of learning that has a gentle form of competition to it using a sort of scavenger-hunt principle
The whole lesson is hung up around the availability of extremely high-resolution photographs of artworks that can be found at various online locations.
Tower of Babel high/resolution image
I ask the pupils to get this image open on their laptop screen and first have a good look round the picture, zooming in and zooming out, taking a good look at everything that is going on.
Then I start my PowerPoint up at the front of the class. Each slide shows a very zoomed in piece of detail from the painting, along with an arrow pointing above, below or to a side of the detail. There is also a word, maybe `climbing` for example. The idea is simply to±
- Find the detail in Bruegel´s original work
- Look just beyond the detail in the direction of the arrow
- Describe or explain what is going on in this `beyond` area, but the sentence that you form MUST include the given word in exactly the form it is given
Returning to this assignment for the first time in a few years it was great to see the pleasure that was had by this particular group of twelve-year-olds, They were searching around a nearly 500 year old painting, laughing at some of the more quirky discoveries they made. They were enjoying looking at and exploring for themselves a jewel from art history. Added to this they were also constructing often quite complex English sentences in what is their second language.
I´ll be doing my best not to overlook this half hour activity again next year!
For anyone interested in trying the assignment, my PowerPoint can be found below.