Working with modern art

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
These suggestions are from the Tate Modern Teachers' Kit, which will be available at the end of July from the Tate Modern shop or by calling 020 7887 886970.

Postmodernism encourages us to think not of one correct reading, but of a variety of interpretations. Here are some questions for children to consider when looking at art objects. It is important to start with a personal response, to allow the learner to engage their own interests, skills and prior knowledge.

A personal approach - what do I bring?

Responses to a work of art are shaped by the individual's personal and social experiences. These should be our first way in to thinking about an art work. Some questions that children can consider are: Yourself: What are your first reactions to the work? Why does it make you feel or think like that?

Your world What does the work remind you of? Why?

Your experiences: What can you connect the work to?

The subject: what is it about?

Each art work can be looked at in terms of what it is telling us, be it through its content, its title or the type of work it is. In some cases, such as work that is very abstract, the subject will reside in the form.

Content What is it? What is it about? What is happening?

Title What does the artist call it? Does this change the way we see it?

Theme What is its theme?

Message What does the work represent? Moving beyond a simple description of what you see, think about what it might stand for. Are there any symbols you recognise?

The object: what can I see?

Every work of art, whether a painting, sculpture, video or photograph, has its own qualities, shaping our reaing of the work. To understand these qualities we need to look at it formally, for example in terms of line, tone, colour, space, mass. Looking at physical properties such as materials and processes will deepen our understanding of the object. With reference to colour, shape, marks, surface, scale, materials, process and composition, you could ask: Content: What coloursshapes etc have been used? Why might the artist have chosen these? What effects do they create?

Process: How has the work been made? Has the artist made it or had it made? What skills are involved?

Materials: What materials is the work made of?

Composition: How is the art work organised or put together?

The context: relating the work to the wider world The context within which the work was produced (for example, the political climate, social history and culture of the time) will undoubtedly tell us more about it. The present-day context may give a different reading.

When: When was it made? Can we make connections between the work and the period it was made in?

Where: Where was it made? Does the work tell us anything about the place it was made in?

Who: What do we know about the artist? Who was it made for?

History: Can you relate the work to the social and political history of the time?

Other arts: Can you link it to other arts of the period, for example film, music, literature, design?

Other fields of knowledge Does the work relate to other areas of knowledge (such as science, geography, maths, ecology)?

The present: How do people view the work today? Is it the same as or different from how it might have originally been seen?

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