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Seeing Clearly: How can historical empathy help us interpret artists’ works? (Ready to Go Resource)

Ready-to-go resources are flexible learning activities that center art as texts. In “Seeing Clearly” students work in a small group to deepen their background knowledge on the context for an artwork. The series culminates with a Socratic Seminar where students apply their knowledge to consider the artist’s purpose as well as reflect on how developing historical context and empathy can impact their interpretation of a piece of artwork.

El Cotton Bowl de Hank Willis Thomas

Guiding Question: How can historical empathy help us interpret artists’ works?

Featuring Hank Willis Thomas’s Cotton Bowl

Make your own copy! Check the slide notes for the teacher’s guide.


Students look at an artwork through multiple lenses or perspectives to help them understand the artists’ intended meaning better. Over the next several classes students work to see this artwork more clearly by considering others’ perspectives, learning more about the historical contexts that have influenced this work, and developing historical empathy for the places and subjects of the artwork. Then, they participate in a Socratic seminar.