Lesson Plan

What's in a Picture? An Introduction to Subject in the Visual Arts

'Boys in a Dory,' by Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910).
Photo caption

"Boys in a Dory" by Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910).

When you visit an art museum and enter one of the halls filled with paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures your eye falls on the image closest to you and you wonder what is that picture about?

This lesson plan focuses on helping students to answer that question by investigating the subject of works of art. This lesson plan will provide a guide for gathering clues embedded in works of art, as well as an introduction to searching for the underlying meaning and messages that are present in many works of art. Students will work, step by step, through the layers of meaning, delving more deeply into these layers with each work as they progress through the lesson.

Guiding Questions

What is the subject in a work of art?

Learning Objectives

Define subject in the visual arts.

Research and analyze subjects beyond the objects and figures which appear in the image.

Explain how a close viewing and a close reading of the image contribute to the successful viewing of the art work.