Teaching Writing Through Art

Inspire Thoughtful Creative Writing Through Art

A number of years ago, I presented Winslow Homer’s painting “The Gulf Stream” to the sixth grade students I was teaching. The artwork depicts a young black sailor in a little boat that is shattered, surrounded by thrashing sharks, enormous surf, and a large storm in the distance. It is an epic painting. The question that I posed to my class was straightforward: “What’s going on?” Responses ranged from “He’s a slave trying to escape” to “He’s a fisherman stranded at sea.” The consensus was that “He’s a slave trying to escape.” The general sentiment that emerged from the comments, though, was that the majority of the students were extremely worried about his well-being. “This boat appears to be in poor condition. I have a bad feeling about that guy getting eaten by the sharks “was a phrase that was repeated often. After that, an extremely reserved young lady raised her hand. She reassured him by saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll be alright” “The ship will bring him to safety.”

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As everyone turned their attention intently to the painting, the room fell silent. I gave it a serious examination. What vessel is it?” I offered a response. The small girl approached the picture, and then she pointed to the upper left corner of the picture. Undoubtedly, a ship could be seen vanishing behind the haze further away.

The subsequent conversation was affected both in terms of its tone and its subject matter as a result of this disclosure. Some others believed that the ship would be the one to save him. Others believed that the ship was the one that was responsible for him going overboard and drowning. Would he be taken out by the storm, the sharks, or the ship? Hearing all of the unique and inventive comments was by far the most enjoyable aspect of this heated discussion. Some of the students even got into a fight. The analysis of this picture resulted in the creation of a compelling story that was written down.

Because of this experience, I have established tactics that I may use in my art classes to capitalise on the power of observation, analysis, and writing.

Long before they learn how to write, children have a natural ability to make connections between their thoughts, words, and images. The process of encapsulating meaning in several different symbol systems and then shifting it from one medium to another is referred to as transmediation. Students take this visual content that they see in the classroom and put it into their own narratives, which they then develop by adding new ideas and information that comes from their own personal experiences while using art. Children are better able to produce ideas, organise their thoughts, and communicate effectively when they use this method, which consists of three steps: observe, interpret, and create.

Step 1: Observe

In order for students to produce writing that is profound and thought-provoking, it is essential for them to look closely and observe the image. When deciding which works of art to utilise in your lesson, keep this in mind. Look for pictures that have:

Many details: If the picture is straightforward, there isn’t much to dissect in it.
Characters: In order to write about the picture, there should be some sort of humans or animals in it.
Colors: Find colours that can communicate a certain feeling.
What kinds of spatial interactions exist between the foreground and the background?
Take your kids on a journey through the picture. We are not interested in hearing “I like it” as an answer to our question. In order to direct the discourse, you should ask questions. Challenge them to think outside the box and encourage them to do so. Consider the following inquiries:

What kinds of shapes can you make out? What, if anything, do you think about when you see them?
What hues do you perceive around you? What emotions do those colours evoke in you?
What kinds of repeating things do you find? How are they put together?
Do you see any odd textures? What exactly do they stand for?
Where should I look to find the image’s primary emphasis? How exactly did the artist direct your focus to the main area of interest?
How did the artist provide the impression that there is more room in the picture?
What would you see if you were actually living in the picture and had the ability to glance in any direction?
What kind of odours would you be exposed to if you were living in the picture? What do you think you would hear?
Make sure that your questions are open-ended, and document the responses that your pupils provide you so that they can use it as a reference in the future. Identify assumptions and put them to the test. At this stage, we are not seeking for conclusions or evaluations; rather, we are interested only in observations.

Step 2: Make Inferences by Analyzing Art

After the students have had a chance to talk about what they observe, the next step is for them to answer the question, “What is happening?” They are need to draw inferences about the responses based on the picture and provide explicit justifications for their judgments.

For instance, as another student was gazing at the Gulf Stream, one of the students remarked, “The storm has already ended and is now moving away from the area. You can tell because the man’s boat, which is a little one, has been severely damaged, specifically the mast, which is shattered.” In their responses, we are searching for logical reasoning that is supported by inferences drawn from the information shown in the picture. There will not be any two solutions that are exactly the same; nonetheless, it is possible for all of them to be correct provided that the student is able to clearly argue his or her answer using specifics from the image. Children are demonstrating their ability to analyse art as well as use their critical thinking skills when they share their thoughts based on logic and the details presented.

The following is a list of suggestions that can help you model an adult discourse about art:

Please provide sufficient time for the wait. We are frequently in such a hurry that we do not provide sufficient time for youngsters to think and consider.
Instruct pupils to not only hear the opinions of others but also think about them and respond to them.
Your inquiries have to be concise and get right to the topic.
In the process of studying art, be sure to highlight certain aspects to focus on (characters, facial expressions, objects, time of day, weather, colors, etc.).
Clarify the difference between the literal and the symbolic meanings (for example, a spider’s web can just be that or it can represent a trap).

Step 3: Create

After engaging in deep observation and conversation, the students are brimming with new ideas. Throughout the rest of the writing assignments that are to follow, they will be required to draw support for their ideas from specifics in the image. The following is a small selection of the diverse responses we are capable of having to art:

Find and describe the various forms and patterns, this activity is for younger students.
Please describe the time of day and the atmosphere of the scene.
Create a detailed description of a character using a character sketch. People, animals, or even inanimate objects can play the role of a character.
Create a story that revolves around this picture and features an original character.
Provide pupils with a list of precise words and phrases that they are required to use in their story.
Write out your interpretation of what the picture could represent, find a partner, and try to convince them that your interpretation is the one that best fits the information in the picture. This activity is designed for students in higher grades.
Determine the characters’ goals and motivations. Who are they, and what do they want to accomplish? Provide an explanation based on the specifics of your knowledge.
Imagine that you are actually in the picture, and then describe what you see, what you smell, what you feel, and what you hear.

Thinking and Communicating

Describe the particulars that are just beyond the scope of the picture, the ones that are not visible to us.
Include some conversation in your narrative. What exactly are they talking about?
Put the events of the story in the correct order. What took place five minutes ago, what is taking place right now, and what will take place five minutes after this scenario has concluded? How do you know?
Create your piece from the point of view of one of the people depicted in the photograph.
Describe who the good guy and the bad guy are in the story. What exactly is their disagreement?
Both thinking and communicating are required.
Even while we are unable to predict what is ahead for our pupils, we are certain that they will need to be able to think critically, make connections, and communicate clearly. Students may find that this is easier thanks to art. Fareed Zakaria, who delivered the commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College this year, stated that “it is the process of writing that pushes me to go through them [ideas] and sort them out.” [Citation needed] Students who struggle to arrange their thoughts and produce writing that is both coherent and meaningful may find that art provides the missing connection.

If you are thinking about instructing writing through art, I strongly suggest that you read In Pictures and in Words by Kate Wood Ray and check out the PictureWriting.org website created by Beth Olshansky.

How have you been able to encourage creative thinking in your students by utilising various artistic mediums? Tell us more about it in the comments section, please.