What’s the Big Idea?  Prompts for Extended Thinking

What’s the Big Idea? Prompts for Extended Thinking

Use these prompts after your Evans Distance Learning Program (Evans DLP) session or museum visit to activate creative, critical, and reflective thinking.

Grade Level:
College, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Modern and Contemporary Art
Activity Type:
Distance Learning

What’s the Big Idea? Prompts for Extended Thinking

Creative Thinking

Using our imaginations when looking at art can activate prior knowledge and spark curiosity. Ask students to recall their Evans DLP visit and try this activity.

The galleries at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts feature hundreds of works of art, each one with a story to tell, concept to explore or puzzle to work out. Thinking about how these ideas connect to one another can be fun.

Imagine the artists who made these works could visit together at the museum. Suppose Julie Mehretu and Jacob Lawrence, whose works are seen below, could meet at VMFA to talk about art. Based on what you observed of their work, consider:

1. How might they look at and think about each other’s artwork?

2. What ideas might they share about how what art can say?

3. What might they point to in their own work that demonstrates their thoughts and inspirations?

Creatively present the imagined conversation in a digital or analog media of your choice.



Critical Thinking

Looking closely at art helps us consider how an artist’s ideas and creative methods may engage and elicit responses from viewers.

During your Distance Learning visit, students practiced looking carefully to interpret artworks by two artists whose particular use of color and line connects viewers to ideas about human experiences. Ask students to look carefully at other works of art in the collection to build on their ideas about messages and methods in 20th and 21st-century art. Choose works from the gallery at the right. Use the Looking to Learn: Elaboration Game strategy to help frame student inquiry.

Reflective Thinking

Thinking about our experience with art helps us connect to people and ideas across time and place. Ask students to reflect on their Evans DLP visit with one or more of the following prompts.

  • Having spent time with the work of Jacob Lawrence and Julie Mehretu, what more do you know about how artists might use gesture, color, and line to convey ideas and emotions? How do you imagine the lives of these artists were similar or different to your own?
  • What did the art NOT answer for you? What are you curious about? Name three things that you wish you knew more about and why. Visit your school library and databases to research the answers to your questions.
  • Imagine you were to time travel and visit the studio of either or both of these artists. Based on what you have seen at VMFA, what would you expect it to be like? What would it sound, smell, look, and feel like? What about YOU and how you work would be interesting to Lawrence or Mehretu?