Lesson Concept: Seeing and SIFTing

Lesson Concept: Seeing and SIFTing

Why look at art? Art is one way humans communicate ideas to one another. Sifting through the information art presents takes careful and purposeful looking. Before a museum visit or Evans Distance Learning session, students can practice connecting to art as intentional inquirers. Use this simple exercise as a guide.

Grade Level:
College, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Subject Area:
English, Fine Arts, History and Social Science, Visual Arts
Activity Type:
Distance Learning, Lesson Concept

Lesson Concept: Seeing and SIFTing


Structure this simple activity in a way that makes sense for your class. Make a game of it, combine written responses with discussion, use graphic organizers, etc. The objective is for students to engage and connect with art and to make meaning from that interaction.

Choose from the images below or visit the VMFA Collections page to search for other possibilities.

Seeing and SIFTing Activity

Invite students to look closely at a work of art for at least 30 seconds and consider the following:

  • What are some things you notice about the environment and setting depicted?
  • Where in the world might this be? Does it remind you of any place you’ve seen or been?
  • What are some words you could use to describe the mood or atmosphere you see in this artwork?
  • What people do you see in the work of art?
  • How do they seem to relate to one another and to the scene as a whole?
  • Can you gather any ideas about the society in which they live?
  • Do they offer any clues to the time period this artwork might be depicting or when it might have been made? 
  • Describe what you notice about the format of this artwork and how it might have been made.
  • What tools and materials might the artist have used?
  • Does this give you an indication of when and where it was made and for whom?
  • What are your own thoughts about this artwork?
  • Is there anything that confuses or intrigues you?
  • What would you like to know more about?


Discuss what you were able to glean about:

  • Purpose: Why/how/when might the artist have made this art?
  • Context: Where and when was this art made? In what type of space might it have been featured?
  • Audience: Who might have looked at this art when it was made? How might they have interacted with this work?

Reflect on the process: Look at the art with new eyes. Consider the class discussion and complete the following statements about the image and your experience of it:

I used to think…

Now I think…

Graphic Organizer

You may wish to print and distribute this graphic organizer to help students document their ideas during the SIFT activity.