A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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Youth Kneeling and Holding Out a Wine Cup. Rezi Abbasi. Early 17th century, Safavid period. Ink and color wash on paper. 14 x 9.2 cm. Isfahan, Iran

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words,” is a really useful concept when it comes to developing English vocabulary and conversation with international friends. Lately we have been showing famous paintings from around the world and asking three open ended questions, courtesy of the Visual Thinking Strategies.  “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?  What more can we find?”

According to VTShome.org, the facilitator responds with nonjudgmental statements restating and clarifying what the contributor has said. They will point out various parts of the painting people are looking at or describing. As the discussion continues, the facilitator links comments together, without adding their own opinion.

Why is this kind of discussion valuable?  The VTS shows research to indicate this kind of interaction with art strengthens critical thinking skills, which influences academic performance in other areas.  For me, interacting with international students by looking at paintings together is fun.  It increases their vocabulary and and provides a learning experience for both of us. We, in this instance, are on the same level, looking and observing together.

Today I met my Iranian friend.  She asked me what I was doing and I showed her the project I was working on: selecting great works of art and connecting them with topics derived from the painting.  I asked her the three questions, mentioned above.  As she contributed her observations I learned even more about her culture and history.  Her comments helped me understand unanswered questions from previous discussions.

Many of the discussion guides on this website have paintings in them that you can discuss with your friends.  I will let you know when my art discussion project is available for use widespread use. Do you think this kind of resource would be helpful?

Looking and Listening,

Jane Fox

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