How to Help Your Students Understand Art


Many people have different opinions about what art is. Some believe that art is simply a form of entertainment or something to look at, while others think it is an expression of the human imagination that can convey emotions and ideas that words cannot. Art is also an important part of every culture, helping to shape civilizations and influence the lives of people.

Throughout history, artists have experimented with various forms and techniques to expand the boundaries of what can be considered art. They have created sculptures with moving parts, paintings that incorporated collage, and even used electricity to operate kinetic art pieces. In addition, modern art movements have challenged the definition of what constitutes a work of art, with some of these works appearing to defy traditional categories altogether.

In order to fully understand and appreciate a piece of art, students must learn about the artist’s intention. In this way, they can see how the meaning of a work is not necessarily fixed but can change over time depending on the audience’s interpretation and reaction to it. In this way, art is a reflection of the world around us and can help us better understand our surroundings.

To help your students better understand art, encourage them to ask questions about the work. This will allow them to take ownership of their own learning by generating ideas and opinions that are unique to them. It will also help them develop a deeper understanding of what they are looking at, rather than simply regurgitating the opinions of others. As they are analyzing the work, consider pairing it with a history lesson to give students a chance to apply what they have learned about a historical event to their analysis of the artwork.

A great starting point is examining the technique of the piece, asking your students what they see when they look at it. This can include evaluating the use of contrast, such as the juxtaposition of textures, colors or lighting. You can also encourage your students to think about symbolism, asking what the work represents in relation to its subject matter. You can even ask your students to compare the work with other works of a similar style or period.

Lastly, you can discuss how the work may be connected to history, or what it might have been used for in its original context. This can be a powerful and engaging way to encourage your students to analyze and think critically about a work of art.

To further support your students’ understanding of art, Smarthistory provides a wide range of resources on topics like architecture, the great art periods and civilizations of the world, and much more. With our content being continuously updated, the possibilities for lessons and discussions on art are endless! The articles and videos found on this site were originally produced to support courses on the Western canon, but have since been extended to include significant coverage of art and cultural traditions outside the West.