For a fun activity to support class discussion and visual literacy, students can play detective by attempting to piece together clues about an artwork. During a discussion, students can view the different elements of the work. Studying the work, they can identify key features and assess their feelings about what they see. What other clues can be collected by looking at the title? Based on the evidence they have collected, students can draw conclusions about what the artwork represents. This detective activity can be a way to approach looking at and talking about art in groups.
Try beginning this activity by withholding the title of the artwork. Students can begin by focusing on the different elements and principles that are seen in Sun, Tower, Airplane (e.g., color, shape, value, space, movement, etc.). Have students describe the feelings they experience when observing this painting. Once they have investigated the elements of the artwork, the student art detectives can begin examining the imagery.
Explain to students that during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the images seen in the painting were inventions that were considered technological advances. Many inventions during that period are still used today. Ask your student art detectives to locate the following images:
- The Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair. At that time it was the tallest building in the world. Designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower allowed Parisians to view their city from a unique vantage point. Even though it was a triumph of engineering, many people considered it an eyesore, wanting it to be torn down after the fair. Delaunay was fascinated by the Eiffel Tower and painted it numerous times.
- The biplane represents the soar in aviation during the early 1900s. In 1903, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully flew the first biplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The inclusion of the biplane is also an homage to French aviator and inventor Louis Blériot, who had been the first to fly across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air machine in 1909.
- The Ferris Wheel was invented by George Ferris in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The popular carnival ride was invented to show that American engineering could rival that of the French. The first Ferris Wheel had thirty-six cars made of wood and was 264 feet high (almost as tall as a football field is long).
Breaking down the different layers of meaning in an artwork allows students to build abstract thoughts based on concrete observations. It is an interactive way to teach visual literacy in your classroom. Once students have discussed the inventions from history, ask students to brainstorm the different technological advances in today’s society. This discussion can segue into the artmaking activity.