Curators (the people who choose the works of art for display in a museum) often compare a museum’s work to that of other known works by the same artist or artists of the same time period and culture, if the artist is unknown. This activity offers students the opportunity to compare one of the Museum’s works with reproductions that may or may not correlate with the work on the wall to help them develop the idea that artists have their own style. An artist’s style consists of the choices that she/he makes relatively consistently over time. It can include choice of subject matter, medium or media, technique, size of work, format (shaped or unshaped canvases, for example) and other criteria.
Look at the work of art with participants. Participants share what they see in the with work and what in the work tells them that. Then describe how curators (the people who select the works to put on display) often compare works of art in the Museum with works by the same artist or around the same time and place to make sure that they have identified the best artist for the work. This is especially important if the work isn’t signed or if there isn’t other information to identify the artist who made it.
Show participants a range of reproductions of works, some of which relate to this work of art and some of which do not. As each work is shown, participants vote “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe” (Thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways) to indicate whether the reproduction is by the same artist or not. (An alternative to this is to have three pieces of paper with yes, no, or maybe; participants vote for each image by standing next to the paper that represents their vote.)
Model or practice this process with a nearby work, using a reproduction that is strikingly different and one that is fairly close to the work on the wall. Then, show participants reproductions one at a time for the “real”/non-practice work of art. Discard the “no” reproductions in one pile or face down, and the “yes” and “maybe” votes in two other piles. Encourage participants to say what in the reproduction relates to the work in the gallery. If there is disagreement, students with opposing opinions should share their justifications for their choices, citing evidence in the work. Facilitators may need to ask follow-up questions at this point. Review the “yes” and “maybe” piles, refining as needed, asking participants what in the work would support it being included in one category or the other.
Participants may check the back of the reproduction against the label to check their answers if they need closure. However, the goal of this activity is to look for and identify similarities between the works, whether in subject matter, color choice/palette, paint application technique, etc. Acknowledge the relationship of the artist represented in a reproduction to the author of the Museum work, if known (colleague, student, shared studio, teacher, etc.).