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Connecting Words and Art

The words on the cards offer another dimension to learning how to look at works of art. “The glory of everything.” “Rest from care, my one and only.” “Deep in the dung and the dark.” “They’re fattening you up because they’re going to kill you.” “The night seemed long.”

Taking the saying on the card, a museum-goer looks at the works of art in a designated gallery to find an appropriate match between the mood and thought of the words and a painting, sculpture, or assemblage. This looking activity can take as much, or as little, time as the docent wishes to allot.

What is important is that each person gets to talk about their match:

  • How did s/he make the match?
  • Why did s/he pick that work?
  • What do the words mean, and in what ways do they relate to the art?

The activity is written on cards. Each card has one saying, and there should be more cards than participants. A participant picks a card (or draws one from a stack), and then looks around to find a work of art in the gallery that the participant thinks matches the saying.

The sayings quoted above come from the classic children’s book Charlottes Web by E. B. White. While this book is a treasure trove of marvelous sayings, and is wonderful for adults as well as children, there are many other sources to draw upon. Poetry lends itself well to sayings that can bring meaning ╤ and art ╤ to life.

Wouldn’t you like finding a painting that reflects William Butler Yeat’s thoughts: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”? Searching a gallery for connections between words and art gives the mind and the eye something specific to look for. Different aspects of art works present themselves when the mind is focused. And, it works for all ages! (Since this activity is not a test of reading and comprehension abilities, it may be necessary to “help” read the saying, even to interpret it a little bit, but that can also be part of the learning process.)

Looking at art should be fun. The experience of being in the museum should match this last saying, again from Charlotte’s Web, “Woven neatly in block letters was the word TERRIFIC.”

Sheila James, currently a children’s docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has also been a docent at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and at The Art Institute of Chicago. Ms. James was also a teacher of English as a Second Language in Honolulu.

James, Sheila. “Connecting Words and Art,” The Docent Educator 7.1 (Autumn 1997): 19.

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