Skip to main content

How to 'read' a painting

How to ignite discussion

There are a range of prompts you can use to ignite discussion. Here are some examples:

  • Which person or people do you think are the most important?
  • Where do you think the artist wants us to look?
  • Tell me about the people in the painting?
  • What are the relationship(s) between the people in the painting?
  • What is similar or different about certain people?
  • What might each character in the painting be saying/thinking?
  • What would you do if…?
  • Tell me about the place in the painting?
  • What else in the picture might be important?
  • What might be happening in the picture?
  • What if…?
  • What words could we use to describe the mood/atmosphere?
  • If I tell you… what further connections can you make/how does it change your thinking?
  • What do you think might be the message or theme?
  • What do you think is viewpoint of the artist?
  • What title would you give the painting?

Developing dialogue

To move from the traditional teacher-pupil-teacher interaction model into a dynamic dialogue, where ideas build upon each other and understanding deepens with each subsequent contribution, each key question is followed by some or all of the following prompts:

  • Say a bit more about that
  • How do you know?
  • Where is the evidence?
  • How has the artist created this effect?
  • Can someone else add to that?
  • What else?
  • Who disagrees? What might someone say who disagrees?
  • Why?
  • Why else?

Paintings for storytelling