Locating Purpose in Allusion through Art and Poetry
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In this lesson, students examine juxtapositions of a series of paintings by Kehinde Wiley and various Old Masters to which Wiley's paintings allude. Students will observe that Wiley transforms these older works by replacing white, powerful figures with African men and hip-hop artists, and will consider the implications of these changes. Students will then apply their knowledge of allusions to a comparison of Pieter Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and the myth of Icarus. Students will observe differences in tone and will explain each work's take on human suffering.
Interactive Venn Diagram: Facilitate the comparison of two or more artistic works using this Venn diagram.
Inquiry Chart: On this chart, students create their own questions about various texts to share.
From Theory to Practice
Chris Gilbert discusses the importance of promoting visual literacy, or "the ability to comprehend the image as a constructed medium inscribed with multiple narratives that inform identity," in the English classroom (89). He goes on to argue that "because of the prevalence of images in contemporary society, it is imperative that ELA instructors teach visual literacy to students so they become better able to reveal and rewrite the narratives of race and class that are inscribed in the innumerable images they unquestionably consume" (89). This lesson helps students develop the ability to analyze and evaluate critically messages sent through art works; during this lesson, students are asked to consider how art may be raced and classed. Teachers have the opportunity to engage with students in important conversations about literary and artistic canons, and about tone conveyed in pieces of art work.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
This link takes teachers to Kehinde Wiley's "Chancellor Seguier on Horseback." Students will compare this image with Charles Le Brun's "Chancellor Seguier Entry Louis XIV, Paris 1660."
This link takes teachers to Charles Le Brun's Chancellor Seguier Entry Louis XIV, Paris 1660.
This link provides an image of Kehinde Wiley's "Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps."
This provides a link to " Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard," a painting that is currently housed at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
This website features a collection of Kehinde Wiley's artistic works.
The National Portrait Gallery in London houses a collection of portraits from the 15th to 20th centuries.
Students will read Daedalus and Icarus before they examine allusions to the myth of Icarus; teachers can find this resource through the University of Virginia Library.
This website includes W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and an image ofc Pieter Brueghel's, "The Fall of Icarus."
- Check websites to confirm that they are functioning properly and familiarize yourself with these websites.
- Preview the Interactive Venn Diagram to familiarize yourself with this resource.
- Find background information on Kehinde Wiley and about issues surrounding canonization.
- Examine the writing rubric and pre-select two or three areas that you will use to evaluate shorter writing assignments during this lesson.
- examine and discuss important details in a work of art and poetry.
- locate authorial purpose and tone in art and poetry.
- understand and use the literary term "allusion."
- discuss how an author or artist draws on the work of another artist or author and consider why authors and artists may draw on or transform works of art and literature.
- Begin the lesson by displaying the Allusion PowerPoint or by distributing this resource as a handout. Briefly introduce the art works by title, artist, and year they were painted.
- Ask students to examine these side-by-side images for a few minutes, focusing on questions such as
- What do you notice about these works?
- How are these paintings similar or different?
- Who do you think the people in these paintings are?
- How do you know?
- What do you make of the artists' use of color?
- Why do you think the artist made these choices?
- Then have students use the Interactive Venn Diagram to compare and contrast paintings. Encourage students to formulate questions about the paintings using Inquiry Charts. Circulate around the room while students work independently.
- Tell students to share what they wrote with a partner and to attempt to answer their partner's questions. Then, call on pairs of students to share what they wrote. Write questions that students create on the board as well as student responses. Encourage other students in the class to build on student responses.
- Share the objectives for this lesson, emphasizing the fact that these goals are not only about identifying allusions, but also about discovering the purpose for various allusions.
- Display the dictionary definition of allusion and ask students to explain how one work draws on the other. Ask: Is there an allusion here? What painting is making the allusion?
- Call on volunteers to share their responses. Students should notice that Kehinde Wiley's work draws on the work of Charles Le Brun.
- Tell students that the problem that they are going to attempt to solve is this: What is the purpose of allusion. Then, tell students that they will be using the London Portrait Gallery and Kehinde Wiley's website to try and solve this problem. That is, in a minute, students will be looking closely at art works by Old Masters (famous, canonical artists) and then more closely at Kehinde Wiley's work to try and figure out why Wiley would want to draw on and transform these older works.
- Distribute Portrait Gallery graphic organizers and explain to students that they will be working in pairs to explore the London Portrait Gallery website.
- Assign a different time period to each pair of students.
- Circulate around the room while students work and ask prompting questions to pairs of students:
- Who are the subjects of these paintings?
- What is their social status?
- What ethnicity are they?
- Do they seem socially important/unimportant?
- How do you know?
- Why do you think their portraits are in this gallery?
- Who isn't represented in this gallery?
- After students have had enough time to explore, ask pairs of students to share and discuss their findings with another pair of students. Then, call on each group of four to share their findings. Take notes on the board while students present.
- Lead a whole-class discussion using the following questions as a starting point. Require students to point to specific evidence when making claims.
- How are these paintings similar? How are they different?
- Who are the subjects of these paintings? Why do you think they were chosen?
- What impression are we as viewers supposed to get when viewing these works of art? What are the viewers supposed to think or feel about the subjects in these paintings?
- Who isn't represented in this gallery (Focus on class, ethnicity, ability, and so forth.)? Why? Why does this matter? When asking students if representation matters, teachers may wish to assign a particular position to different groups of students to defend.
- Ask students to reflect on their learning in writing. Display or read aloud the following prompt:
What did you learn today? What did you discover about the Portrait Gallery? Why do you think Kehinde Wiley would want to draw on and transform these works?
- Collect and review their responses in preparation for the next session.
- Respond to student's writing from the end of Session One by reading aloud exemplar exit tickets or call on a student to summarize what they discovered in class yesterday. Re-teach any items from the previous session as necessary.
- In this session, Students explore Kehinde Wiley's website in pairs and use the portrait gallery graphic organizer to log different paintings that they examine. Circulate around the room while students work to confirm that students are on-task and to ask prompting questions.
Questions to ask for Kehinde Wiley:
- Who are the subjects in these paintings?
- Why do you think Wiley chose these particular subjects?
- How does this compare with the paintings that you saw in the London Portrait Gallery?
- Why do you think these differences exist?
- How do you respond to these differences?
- Students use the Interactive Venn Diagram to compare and contrast Kehinde Wiley's paintings and subjects with portraits that they discovered in the National Portrait Gallery. Lead a whole-class discussion based on the questions above. Students should attempt to answer any relevant questions that they created at the beginning of the lesson.
- Students should observe that most of the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery are of white, wealthy or powerful subjects and that Kehinde Wiley's subjects are of non-European origin and are from a range of classes (Jay-Z, unfamiliar subjects). Students should use the literary term "allusion" during this discussion.
- Have students respond independently to the following questions on a blank sheet of paper:
- How does Kehinde Wiley draw on or transform the works of artists like Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard?
- What is the purpose of this kind of allusion?
- Ask students to read what they wrote to a partner. Then, ask pairs of students to share their responses with another pair of students sitting next to them. Tell students to select what they believe is the most accurate or comprehensive response to share with the class. Call on each group of four students to share one selected response.
- Have students respond to the following prompt:
Use the literary term "allusion" in describing how one artist draws on and transforms the work of another artist. Then, explain the purpose for this allusion and its effect on the viewer. Identify the title and artist of each work that you discuss and draw on our in-class discussions in your response.
- Display and read aloud Daedalus and Icarus and call on students to share their responses. Ask questions such as
- What is happening in this myth?
- How do you respond to this? What is the purpose of this story (what is it trying to show or say)?
- Aicask students to draw an artistic representation of the Myth of Icarus, and write a brief explanation of what is happening in the drawing. Students should then compare their drawings with a partner.
- Call on 3-4 students to share their drawings with the class. Students should explain their artistic choices and how their drawing represents the Myth of Icarus. Draw students' attention to differences in drawings and ask them to account for those differences. Some possible questions to ask include
- What does your drawing show us about Icarus' suffering?
- How similar is your drawing to the actual myth?
- Is everything the same?
- Did you make any changes?
- What is the effect of the changes you made?
- Provide a summary or recap of the previous lesson and discussion and clarify the student objectives.
- Distribute Pieter Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and ask students to first independently examine the painting and note important details about the painting in their graphic organizer.
- Students use the Interactive Venn Diagram to compare and contrast "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and Daedalus and Icarus.
- Lead a whole-class discussion on the painting using the following questions as a guide. Students should annotate their texts during the discussion and should use reasoning and evidence to support all claims.
- What do you notice about this painting?
- How would you describe the landscape?
- Why is this painting called "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"?
- Where is Icarus?
- How are others responding to Icarus?
- Where is Icarus located in this painting and why?
- How does this compare with your representation of the Myth of Icarus?
- How do you account for these differences?
- What is the painting showing us about Icarus' suffering?
- How would you describe the tone of this painting?
- Ask students to respond briefly to the prompt: How does Pieter Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" draw on or transform the Myth of Icarus? Use the literary term "allusion" in your response and make reference to any differences in tone.
- Have students read their quick writes to a partner. Call on several students to share their responses.
- Lead a whole-class discussion on Bruegel's painting that follows from student responses and that asks students to evaluate Bruegel's artistic choices and to explain how and why Bruegel transforms the Myth of Icarus.
- Distribute handouts with W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts." Read the poem out loud to the class.
- Ask students to re-read the poem. They should underline important words and phrases and write responses and questions in the margins.
- Then have students compare their responses and questions with a partner.
- Call on a few pairs of students to share their responses and questions. Lead a whole-class discussion about the poem using student-developed questions as well as the following questions:
- Who are the “masters?”
- What is the author trying to communicate in this poem?
- Are there any allusions in this poem?
- What is the tone of the poem?
- How does Auden's reading of "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" compare with your reading of the painting?
- Why did Auden write this poem?
- Assign students to small groups of 3-4 and ask students to use the question below to guide their own discussion and written response. All students will use the Compare and Contrast chart during the small-group discussion to compare two of the pieces discussed (Daedalus and Icarus and "Musee des Beaux-Arts" or Daedalus and Icarus and "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"). Assign the following roles to students:
- Facilitator(s): Keeps the conversation on-track and uses the questions below to move the conversation forward.
- Scribe: Writes a 2-paragraph response to the prompt.
- Presenter: Presents the group's discussion and finished writing product.
- All students are expected to contribute to the conversation.
- Distribute or project the prompt
Compare and contrast Pieter Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and the myth of Icarus. Use the literary term "allusion" in your response and explain how the authors or artists draw or transform other artistic works. In addition, take note of differences in tone and explain each work's take on human suffering.
- Call on the presenter from each group to read their group's finished writing product. If time allows, encourage groups to respond to each other and to take note of important insights made.
- As an alternative to the web searching activity described in Session One in which students explore the National Portrait Gallery and Kehinde Wiley's website, teachers may print off 5-10 selected portraits from each source for students to examine in pairs or in small groups of 3-4.
- Teachers can extend the writing portion of this lesson by asking students to write a compare-contrast essay on one of the artistic pieces discussed in class. Use the Interactive Compare and Contrast Map to facilitate student essay writing.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Closely examine pieces of student writing produced at the end of every session to gauge student understanding; teachers may read aloud pieces of exemplar student writing and/or may highlight insights made by students. In addition, teachers should correct any misconceptions about concepts taught at the start of sessions two and three and should re-teach items as needed
- Use the Writing Rubric to evaluate short writing prompts/exit tickets during this lesson. Pre-select two or three areas that you will emphasize during this lesson and communicate to students that they will be evaluated on these areas.
- Informally assess students by circulating around the room to glance at student writing, to listen to student conversations and to ask specific questions to individuals and groups of students.