"Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin - find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less."
 - Maya Angelou, author

"Art is so persistant in all our cultures because it is a means of the culture to survive. And the reason for that, I believe, is that art makes us attentive. If you look at a work of art, you can re-engage reality once again, and you see the distinction between what you thought things were and what they actually are."
 - Milton Glaser, graphic artist

Visual Images

"Visual images influence the psychological frame work upon which identity is established; particularly the images that one 
sees of him or herself or those that are representative of their community." -LaToya M. Hobbs

Consult the "Exams" page of this website for a list of the terms, ideas, works, and artists you are expected to learn.

"The Tragedy of Guernica": George Steer, Special Correspondant for The Times

Magic of the Image: Photography Revealed (WCC Library "Films on Demand")
Documenting the Face of America: Roy Stryker and the FSA/OWI Photographers (WCC Library "Films on Demand")

Suggested resources
The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978 (WCC Library stacks) 
"Why Visual Literacy?": Toledo Museum of Art
Pictorialism and straight photography: 2 short clips from the PBS documentary, American Photography

Visual art considered in this rubric
A View Near Volterra by Jean-Baptiste Corot
Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (and here)

Bedtime Aviation by Rob Gonsalves

Guernica by Pablo Picasso: read about it here / study the painting here

    • Art historian Patricia Failing tells us that Picasso's Guernica takes "a very traditional theme and [makes] it modern and...relevant to a new time and a new audience and a new sensibility. That's a pretty big accomplishment." Read more here.
    • Ronald C. Rosbottom writes about the raids on Guernica in his book When Paris Went Dark. Click here to read what he has to say.


1. Discuss the iconography (= the imagery within an artwork): make a list of the symbols used in the painting 

    (e.g. horse, eye).

2. Guernica is a monochrome ("monochrome" = one color: a monochrome artwork is one that includes only one color).

    How does Picasso's choice of blacks, whites, and shades of grey affect you?

3. Connect the painting to its context (the attack on Guernica): how does the painting interpret the event?

4. Identify the primary theme of this painting, then compose a theme statement, using a complete sentence (or 


GROUP DISCUSSIONS: A View Near Volterra (Corot); Bedtime Aviation (Rob Gonsalves); Monroe County House with 

Yellow Datura (Beverly Buchanan); Double Portrait, Marci (LaToya M. Hobbs); Convergence (Jackson Pollock)

1. What is your initial emotional response to the image? Try to identify why you respond the way you do. 

2. Make a detailed list of what you see: images (what they are, where they are, how they relate to each other), 

   color(s), shapes, lines, etc. 

3. If your group has online access, do a quick search for something that provides context for the art work.

4. Come to a consensus about the primary theme of the work of art. 

5. Decide how your group will present the work of art you've discussed to the rest of the class.

Dorothea Lange: "A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera."

Documentary photography ASSIGNMENT 1: Research 

a) Do some research, in the library or online, to find examples of documentary photography. 

b) Choose one documentary photo that clearly captures a specific social problem or injustice. 

c) Be prepared to share your choice in class: prepare a hard copy or note the URL for online access. 

d) Compose a paragraph responding to the following questions (you'll turn this in):

1. Who and/or what is in the photo?  

2. Where and when was the photo taken? By whom? 

3. Why and for whom was the photograph taken?

4. Look at the composition of the photo. How are the elements arranged? Where is your eye drawn? 

5. What do you notice about the light? What time of day is it?

6. Is the photo in color or black and white? How does that affect your reaction to the photo? 

7. How is the photograph presented? 

8. What do you think this photo trying to communicate?

9. If there are companion images (photos shot at the same time, on the same theme), how do they contribute to your understanding of the photo you chose?

10. Determine where the photographer was standing when s/he took the picture. Imagine how the meaning of the photo would change if the photographer had taken it from a different position.

11. How does this photo affect you? Consider why.

Documentary photography ASSIGNMENT 2: Group discussion

Consider, one by one, each photo choice of your group members by following these steps:

Step 1
Without showing your photo to your group members, describe it to them. Be specific: give sufficient details 

so classmates can imagine the photo before you show it to them. Avoid giving your interpretation of the photo or

your opinions about the photo. Instead, during this first step, describe what you see instead of what you think the

photo is trying to communicate. 

Example: "This is a color photo. It is a portrait. In the center is a woman looking directly at the camera. Her hair is dark; her eyes are green. The background of the photo is also green. The woman is wearing a red scarf." 
(Steve McCurry's iconic photographic portrait "Afghan Girl")

Step 2
Show the photo to the members of your group. Discuss how the image matches or differs from what they 

imagined as they listened to your description.  

Step 3
Together as a group, think about how the photographer’s choices (those you considered in assignment 1) create 

meaning and communicate ideas. Be sure to consider the culture and the context of the photo, as well as where and 

how the photo was first presented to the public.

Step 4

Identify the purpose of the photo: what is it attempting to communicate? Do you all agree? Discuss differences 

of opinion, if any. Come to a group consensus of what the photo is attempting to communicate. 

Step 5
What is your emotional reaction to the photo? What changes would you make, if any, to increase the 

effectiveness of the photo? 

Documentary photography ASSIGNMENT 3: Group presentations

1. Consider carefully each photo chosen by the members of your group. Which one has the greatest potential 

for attracting public attention and encouraging positive collection action and change?  

2. After you've settled on one photo, plan how you will present it to your classmates. You will identify the specific 

visual images used in the photo, then interpret them, explaining how they work together to communicate the intended 

message of the photo. The guidelines from Assignments 1 and 2 will help you organize your presentation. The remarks 

on critical thinking indicated below may also prove useful to you. 

3. Be sure to determine who will say what and in what order to present a convincing argument supporting 

your documentary photo choice.

Components of Critical Thinking 

    • Identifying and challenging assumptions.
    • Recognizing the importance of context.
    • Imagining and exploring alternatives.
    • Developing reflective skepticism.

Critical thinking is essential to an effective analysis of a documentary photo (or of any substantial idea).

The critical thinker routinely asks himself or herself the following types of questions:

What is the purpose of my thinking (why am I thinking about this)?

What is the specific question I am trying to answer?

Within what point of view am I thinking?

What information am I using?

How am I interpreting that information?

What concepts or ideas are central to my thinking?

What conclusions am I arriving at?

What am I taking for granted (what assumptions am I making)?

If I accept my conclusions, what are the implications of those conclusions?

What would happen if I put my thoughts into action? 

Below: Photo documenting Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969


A Case for the Humanities: short video interview with Nam Kiwanuka and
Paul Keen

vmgworks: web site of Seattle-based artist Perri Howard

The MoMA Collection's closer look at Starry Night

"What the Moon Saw" by Hans Christian Anderson

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: view works here

INSIDE/OUT: "The Science of Art History"

"The Trippy '60s, Courtesy of a Master: Mad Men Enlists the Graphics Guru Milton Glaser" (NY Times article)

The New York Times: Images from 4 years of "What's Going on in This Picture?"

"We declare the world our canvas": Street Art Utopia

Contemporary artist Sarah Mazzetti 

Contemporary artist Brian Rea

Contemporary movement artists Jon Boogs and Lil Buck, with installation artist Alexa Meade: "Color of Reality"

BBC documentary The Secret of Drawing"All in the Mind" (episode 3)

Yuko Shimizu, graphic artist

Japanese neo-pop artist Mr.: View some of his work here. Read a Huff Post article about him here.

Contemporary artist Beverly Buchanan's work: view here
Marcia G. Yermen's "Women in Art" interview with Beverly Buchanan: here

Khan Academy video on The Tribute Money by Masaccio

The Metropolitan Museum of Art on abstract expressionism here 
Hans Namuth film short: Pollock 51
WikiArt: Jackson Pollock
Examples of Janet Sobel's art here and here

Interested in exploring concepts of abstract expressionism via music? Get to know Morton Feldman: "American Sublime"

Magic realism artist Paul Bond
David Griffin's TED Talk: "How Photography Connects Us"

Contemporary video artist Bill Viola, whose artistic expression uses electronic, sound, and image technology in New Media.

Interview with Bill Viola: "Cameras are soul keepers"

Artist Kiki Smith in PBS' Art 21 
"Basically, I think art is just a way to think...like standing in the wind and letting it pull you in whatever direction it wants to go."

Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

The Motley View Journal of FilmAndré Bazin and the ontology of the photographic image

Jeff Wall (from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) on staged and straight photography

Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York
Brian Skerry Photography

Depeche Mode: "Photographic"

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