Students will learn the basic tools for analyzing images using description, reflection, and formal analysis.
• work in teams to interpret and analyze an assigned work of art.
• write responses to the work of art that will demonstrate an understanding of description, reflection, and formal analysis.
Elements of Art
Principles of Design
Instructions for Teachers
1. Choose a photograph that works best with your curricular goals. Using the image Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland as an example, introduce the basic concepts of description, reflection, and formal analysis, as described in Analyzing Photographs, by modeling these methods for the students. Distribute copies of the student handouts Elements of Art and Principles of Design. These resources will help students to process the new vocabulary and concepts. Model the processes of description, reflection, and formal analysis, explaining each method to the class. The discussion of formal analysis may require extra time and explanation since it will introduce new vocabulary to students. Explain each of the elements of art and principles of design and demonstrate where each appears in the image.
You can also show photographs created by Los Angeles students and have your students describe, reflect, and analyze the photographs.
2. Students will now analyze an image by working in small groups. If you would like the class to focus on a particular work of art, choose one photograph and display it for the class. If you would like the students to focus broadly on the processes of analysis, give each group a different photograph to examine.
3. Give students time to quietly examine the image. Emphasize the importance of close looking and thoroughly cataloguing the details in a work of art. Prompt students to write objective descriptions of the photograph. Ask students to share their responses with their group. Discuss how a work of art changes when you look closely.
4. When students have completed their written descriptions, they should reflect on their image. Ask students to consider how the image makes them feel or how the artist may have intended the audience to react. Ask students to share their answers with their groups.
5. Share the Background Information and Questions for Teaching about the image with the class, and ask students to reconsider the image in light of the new information. Ask students to discuss how the background information affects their interpretation of the image and to share their answers with their groups.
6. Ask students to refer to their copies of the student handouts Elements of Art and Principles of Design. Remind students that not all of the elements and principles will be obvious in each image. Some of the elements and principles will be more strongly represented than others. Ask students to choose three elements of art and three principles of design and record where and how each appears in the image. Ask students to share their answers with their groups.
7. Finally, ask students to consider how each method of analysis enhanced their understanding of the image and to share their answers with their groups.
Following the arguments made in multimodal discourse studies, interpreting an image as an alternative mode of communication allows us to see image analysis on par with text analysis, engage students with alternative but parallel methods of analysis, better engage students whose visual tendencies may be stronger than their verbal and written skills.
An issue of vocabulary means having to play a bit with the standards to make visual text analysis fit. We can reinterpret the term "text" in many of the core standards as being applicable to visual imagery and other forms of media. This lesson then addresses a number of Common Core Standard areas in Reading, such as "determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development" and "analyze a complex set of ideas."
Other core standards are addressed once we filter them through language more appropriate to the medium, swapping out text-specific terminology with visual compositional terms. We can help students "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text," but here we would focus on pattern repetition, depth of focus, play of light and shadow, and analyzing how the meaning of these elements affects the meaning of the image.
Similarly we can help students "determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text...analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text." This last is particularly true for the section of the lesson where we ask students to reflect on background information on the artist. Once, for instance, they know more about Hine's position as an activist photographer, their interpretation of his purpose may be strengthened by their focusing on compositional elements to analyze how Hine uses these as rhetorical devices and persuasive forces.
This lesson also touches on standards elements in writing (Text Types and Purposes, and Production and Distribution); Speaking and Listening areas (Comprehension and Collaboration, and Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas)
We’re also expanding a vocabulary of analysis in this lesson and helping students develop a new toolbox for critically thinking about visual mediums, which is valuable outside of the classroom and across a variety of disciplines. Obviously a lesson like this has applications in the fine arts, but it also helps students understand media depictions, and analyze things like advertisements, political messages, and other often visual forms of persuasion and propaganda. Seeing how images are designed to persuade is an invaluable addition to their critical toolbox.