Art activities for creating, imagining and connecting

I’ve been attending the stupendously enriching MOOC – Art & Activity from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Coursera. Here’s a selection of activities I really enjoyed from the course along with my own thoughts on application in ELT, business and other learning environments.

Roy Lichtenstein_girl with ball

Activity: Expand the frame

Materials: Photocopies of a template of the artwork on a sheet of paper such that it has lots of blank space for expansion. Here’s one for Roy Lichtenstein’s Girl with Ball.

Instructions: Ask Ss to observe the the artwork carefully in what MoMA facilitators call ‘close looking’. Give Ss the templates and tell them that you are going to give them an opportunity to co-create the work with the artist by expanding the frame. They should use their imagination to answer the question “what would the artist have drawn if the frame were bigger?”

Variations: Ss focus on the character in the artwork by observing pose, gesture and expression. Then they transfer the character to an alternate setting for example with Lichtenstein’s Girl with Ball, a participant in this activity re-imagine her as a centaur dunking a ball into a basketball hoop.

Application: Creative thinking, visual narration & storyboarding, storytelling, vocabulary, fluency.

Rousseau Sleeping gypsy

Activity: Before & After 

Materials: A visual storyboard with three frames. Frame 1 and 3 are empty and frame 2 has the artwork as in this template.

Instructions: Encourage close looking and sharing of observations about the artwork in pairs. Ask Ss to use the visual storyboard to imagine what happened before and after.

Variations: Ask Ss to add text to each frame in the storyboard.

Application: Tenses, vocabulary, creative thinking, visual narration & storyboarding, storytelling

serra_to lift

Activity: Whip Around

Materials: An artwork

Instructions: Ask Ss to look closely at the artwork and go around the group asking each person to say the first word they think of. The only rule is that there can be no repetition.

Variation: Record the words Ss share and revisit them after closer investigation and discussion around the work.

Application: Icebreaker, vocabulary, review

chagall_i and the village

Activity: Visual Inventory 

Materials: An artwork

Instructions: In pairs, groups or individually, Ss make a list of everything they see in a work of art. The focus here is on description rather than interpretation.

Variation: Provide a printed inventory of words and ask Ss to circle words from the list.

Application: Vocabulary

van gogh_starry night

Activity: Blind Contour 

Materials: A painting, pencils and paper

Instructions: Ask Ss to look at a painting like Van Gogh’s The Starry Night for 30 seconds. They shouldn’t do anything at this point beyond exploring as many details as possible. After 30 seconds, ask them to pick up their pencils and place it on random spot on the paper in front of them. They should now look back at the painting and choose one spot on the painting and let their eyes wander gradually across the artwork from there. As their eyes move, so should their pencil. However, they should keep two rules in mind; they should not look down at the paper and they shouldn’t pick up their pencil. They should continue moving along the same contours as their eye for two minutes until you tell them to stop. Here’s my blind contour based on The Starry Night:

My blind contourDebrief: Ask the following questions:  What do you notice about your drawing? Does it reflect your looking? Did you focus on specific areas? In what ways does your drawing reflect the painting? In which ways is it different? Was it frustrating or liberating that you couldn’t look at your drawing while you were making it?

The rationale for this activity is that by not allowing Ss to look away from the paper, the focus is shifted from the result to the process of looking and ultimately how this influences different ways of looking at the same thing.

Application: Creativity within constraints, observation skills, differences in perspectives

Activity: Memory 

Materials: An artwork

Instructions: Ask Ss to look at the artwork for 30 seconds. Ss then turn around so they have their backs to art work. Ask Ss to share what they saw and recalled from the painting. Ss will soon realize that they need each other to piece together a complete memory of the work. They’ll also realize that they’ve missed out or misremembered certain elements. Now allow Ss to look at the painting again. Do they notice more detail now? Is there anything they didn’t notice when they looked at the painting for the first time?

Application: Teamwork, collaboration, exploring biases and blind spots.

kandinsky_panel for edwin r campbell

Activity: DJ the artwork 

Materials: An artwork, Ss will also need access to music on their phones or mp3 devices.

Instructions: Ask Ss to spend a minute looking at the artwork. They shouldn’t do anything else at this point except exploring it. They should then write down as many adjectives as possible describing what they see. When they’ve finished, ask them to read the list out aloud while looking at the painting.

Then, have them think about what sounds they would associate with each word in the list. For example, for the word chaotic, is it loud or soft; heavy or bold; light or subtle?  Ask Ss to list these words on a piece of paper. Now, have them find a type of music that has something in common with the artwork and the list they have created. Ask them to listen to the track using headphones while they look at the painting again for a minute. When I did this activity, I chose Regina Spektor’s whimsical take on Ne Me Quitte Pas to accompany the Kadinsky work above.

Debrief:  Does the music reflect the mood of the artwork? What is the relationship between what you see and what you hear?

Application: Vocabulary, fluency, observation skills, creating sensory links, multimodal learning


Activity: Everyone’s a critic 

Materials: A selection of artwork posted on your classroom walls or even better facilitate the activity in a gallery; Everyone’s a Critic game handout

Instructions: Divide Ss into groups of three or more. In each group, one person is the Critic and the others are Artists. The Critic chooses a theme from the list of themes provided in the game handout such as ‘freedom’ or ‘illusion’. Then, each artist walks around and selects an artwork that best demonstrates this theme. They then present their arguments to the Critic as to why their choice best fits the theme. The one with the most convincing argument wins.

Application: Observation skills, persuasion and influencing skills, crafting an argument

kirchner_street dresden

Activity: Postcard home 

Materials: Index cards, colouring pencils, regular pencils and of course an artwork!

Instructions: Ask Ss to look closely at the painting. What do they notice. Ask them to consider the setting of this painting. What’s familiar? What’s unusual? Ask them to imagine themselves in this scene. Now, distribute the index cards and have them write a note to a friend on one side describing their surroundings. They can use the following as prompts: What do they see around them? What do they smell? What kinds of sounds do they hear? Where might they go next?

Then, have the Ss flip over the index card and draw one section from the painting that they like. Voila, their postcard’s ready.

Application: This is just a tweaked version of a familiar ELT activity and can be used for grammar, vocabulary development and writing skills.

Postcard home

I can’t wait to try out these activities with my learners. I’ll post the activity I designed for my final project for this course shortly.


One thought on “Art activities for creating, imagining and connecting

  1. Pingback: The little people | An art inquiry creative thinking activity | Immersivities

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