The Spanish town of Guernica was bombed on this date in 1937.
It is a sad irony that the most horrific acts of war often lead to the greatest artistic expression. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the peaceful Basque town of Guernica was used for Nazi bombing practice with the approval of General Francesco Franco. Over 100,000 pounds of munitions were dropped, killing more than 2,000 people and destroying 70% of the city. In response, Pablo Picasso painted his masterpiece Guernica, called modern art's most powerful antiwar statement.
Many students have had little exposure to artwork; and yet paintings, photographs, sculpture, and other art forms can and should be studied as legitimate texts. Since most states now require "visual literacy" as part of their standards, incorporating more artwork into the English classroom certainly is beneficial.
Begin by asking your students what they know about art, art history, or famous artists, such as Picasso. Show students Picasso's Guernica. Ideally, you will want to have a transparency, poster, or projection from the website.
Ask students for their initial impressions of the piece. Provide them with background information, and ask how their impressions change when context is provided. Since the painting is quite large, assign students to look at one quarter of the painting at a time, writing down all the visual details they see and sharing their findings in small groups.
Finally, ask students to write about Picasso's purpose in creating this painting. What did he hope to accomplish and how did he try to do so? The answers to these questions get at the theme of the work. The same questions can be applied to any text-print or visual-students are studying.
This website describes a peace project in which kids from war-torn countries create their own Guernica-styled murals. Pictures of different murals are included.
This website complements a PBS program on Picasso's painting. Included is information about Guernica bombing, the meaning of abstract images in the painting, and Picasso's artistic process.
This site contains a huge collection of resources on Picasso. There are biographies, critiques, and catalogs of his work.
This interactive tool combines the process of drawing with analytical thinking about text. Adapt this tool to your students' exploration of the visual arts.