Breaking down the different elements in an artwork enables students to build abstract thoughts based on their concrete observations. It is an interactive way to teach visual literacy in your classroom. Explain to students that Frida Kahlo created numerous self-portrait paintings, many of which contain symbols and clues about the artist’s background and feelings. Have students investigate the different elements inSelf-Portrait with Monkey. Like detectives, students can piece together a conclusion about the artwork based on discussion and observations.
Study the two subjects in the artwork: Frida Kahlo and a spider monkey. Are the two subjects interacting with one another? What might their relationship be based on their observations? Inform students that the monkey is Fulang-Chang, a beloved pet of the artist. Why might Kahlo want to paint Fulang-Chang?
Investigate what Kahlo is wearing in the painting. Do her outfit, hairstyle, and necklace appear to be modern? Where might you find fashion seen in the painting? Why might Kahlo paint herself wearing these clothes? Connecting to her fashion, study the background. Ask students if they can identify where the artist is during the time of the painting. Examine the leaves and plants behind Kahlo. Where could these plants be located: a warm or cool climate? Does the sky look blue or cloudy? What season might it be?
Once students have observed, discussed, and investigated the painting, ask students to construct a conclusion about the painting. Why did Frida Kahlo create this self-portrait? Students may conclude that Kahlo wanted to depict the pride she has in her Mexican heritage and the love of her pet.
What types of objects or images might have personal meaning to students? Have students share what types of things they would include in a self-portrait. Making connections to Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkey; inform students that personal self-identity is reflected in their heritage, interests, and more. Students can begin brainstorming different objects or symbols that represent their self-identity. Students can even add portraits of their pets. Special keepsakes, favorite things, and activities can be drawn into their self-portrait to add personal and symbolic meaning to their artwork.