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For Teachers: Looking Closely at Artworks

A circular disk painted to look like a human eye with a lense in the centre.

Model Glass Eye

© Wellcome Library

    • Artists create works for many different reasons, but often they are an expression of something – a feeling, idea or concept. From the simplest sketch to intricate sculptures and paintings, artworks have the power to convey meaning, express feeling and evoke a sense of a time, place or person in a way that words often can’t. They can also simply act as a record of a person or place or event.

      Artworks can be used in many ways to support skills across the curriculum, including historical enquiry, critical thinking, speaking and listening, and as creative starters. You can visit a museum or gallery to look at paintings, or look online - many museums and galleries have high-resolution digital images that can be printed or projected onto whiteboards.

      Find more ideas for using paintings here:
      How to use paintings to find out about the past
      Using museum collections as creative starters
      Using online collections

      Follow these tips for helping students to look closely at artworks – the longer you look the more they will reveal.


      1.    Look very closely at the whole work. Describe what you see.

      2.    Is there a label? What does this tell you about it?

      3.    What type of artwork is it – painting, collage, sculpture, photo, film?

      4.    Is it a portrait, landscape, seascape or something else?

      5.    How has the artist used line, colour, tone, shape, perspective?

      6.    What do you think is happening in the painting?

      7.    Are there any people in the picture? What are they wearing? What do their clothes tell you about them? Can you see the expressions on their faces? What does this tell you?

      8.    If you could step inside the artwork what do you think you might hear, smell, feel, taste?

      9.    Who is the artist? What do you know about them?

      10.    How did the artist create this work?

      11.    What materials, tools and techniques did they use?

      12.    Why did they create it?

      13.    Who did they create it for?

      14.    What do you think the artist is trying to say?

      Both teachers and students can use these questions to discover more about a painting. If you can't answer them all, use your imagination, paintings are a great creative starter. Once you've got all the information you can out of the painting why not write a short story to fill in the blanks, or paint something using this piece of work as inspiration.

      Curriculum links
      Artworks can enrich and support learning across the curriculum.

      Historical enquiry
      -    Identifying and using useful primary sources
      -    Gathering, selecting, assessing and presenting evidence
      -    Questioning
      -    Assessing reliability and bias
      -    Looking at multiple perspectives – was everyone’s experience the same..?
      -    Thinking about what/which voices might be missing?
      -    Developing and substantiating an answer, argument or narrative

      Creative and critical thinking

      -    Generating ideas
      -    Questioning assumptions and exploring possibilities
      -    Innovating, testing and adapting
      -    Creating

      Literacy
      -    Developing language and vocabulary
      -    Persuading and arguing
      -    Qualifying and justifying
      -    Discussing and debating
      -    Communicating in different forms for different purposes


      Artsmark and Arts award

      Artsmark is a nationally recognised sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education. It enables education settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer and contributes to the cultural aspect of Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Using museums and galleries to support classroom work, or developing you own museum, gallery, archive or exhibition is a great way for your school to gain Artsmark.  Find out more about Artsmark and its impact here.

      Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications inspiring young people to connect with and take part in the wider world of arts, heritage and culture through different challenges at different levels. Through Arts Award young people gain a nationally recognised qualification enabling them to progress into further education and employment. Find out more here and how museums and galleries can support young people in gaining Arts Award.

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