Art Interpretation Activity
Appreciating art goes beyond simply liking or disliking it. Understanding how to discuss war art can help students gain a deeper understanding of a specific work of art and of the experience of war itself.
Discussion about art usually begins by describing the obvious characteristics of the piece by listing off the objective aspects of the work, such as colour, shade, shapes, composition, style, materials and size.
The second aspect of a critical analysis is usually a dialogue based on the subjective characteristics of an artist's work. This is the stage where students express ideas on what the work means to them personally, and why. Some of the key concepts for this stage of analysis include:
Dialogue: There is always more than one way to interpret a work of art, as everyone views art differently. If students respect the ideas presented by others, dialogue can lead to a deeper understanding of the work they are analyzing.
Interpretation: No one can fully understand the intentions of an artist, but this does not mean that interpretations are pointless. Students should try to identify what the artist's intentions were for any given work, while remembering that what is most important is what the work means to them personally.
Context: Students should try placing the artist's work in the much broader context of war art in general. How does the work compare to other works by the same artist, or to works by other artists? What does the work of art tell us about the war it depicts? What does the work tell us about war in general or about society as a whole?
Have students view a selection of three or four images from the collection. Conversely, you can assign one image for a group of three to four students. For each image, the students should answer the following questions:
- What is happening in the image?
- What is the artist trying to say?
- What could this tell you about the artist's wartime experience?
- How does the piece make you feel?
- What techniques does the artist use to create these feelings? (think about colour, shade, shapes, style and composition)
Students can present their findings either in a class presentation or essay.