Visual Art Conversation Lesson

Do you like visual art? What role does art play in your life? What do you think drives people to make art, and what do you do when you feel this drive in yourself? In this conversation lesson, we’ll talk about various aspects of visual art and how people discuss it.

Intro: Watch the following Youtube video about Pablo Picasso’s painting “Night Fishing at Antibes.”

Intro Discussion Questions:

  • What was your first reaction to this “Night Fishing at Antibes?” Did it change as you learned more about the painting?
  • Do you agree with the narrator about the “five ways to look at a painting?” Can you think of any other ways you might look?
  • Did anything surprise you about this painting?
  • Did you learn anything about Picasso that you didn’t know before?

(Note: This lesson in very skewed towards painting, with just a brief mention of sculpture. Sculpture, as well as other artistic disciplines like music, film, theater, and dance, really deserve their own whole lessons…)

New Words

Representational Art (n) – Art that represents or references objects, people, and events in the real world. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the images are realistic.

Example of Representational Art : “The Milkmaid,” Johannes Vermeer, 1658

Another example of representational art: “The Drunkard” by Marc Chagall, 1912 ( As you can see, not all representational art is realistic.

Abstract Art (n) – Art that does not try to represent objective reality, but instead seeks to achieve its effect through shape, form, and color

Example of Abstract Art: “No.3/No.13, Magenta, Black, Green on Orange,” Mark Rothko, 1949 (Fair use,

No.3:No.13 *Magenta, BLack, Green on Orange) Mark_Rothko,_1949


Classical (adj.) – 1) Of or relating to ancient Greek or Latin culture, music, or art; 2) any form of art that represents a traditional or long-established style

Example of classical art: “Netuno,” Unknown Greek Sculptor, c. 460 BCE (taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0,



Impressionism (n) – A style of painting originating in France in the 1860’s which emphasized the visual impression of the moment, especially regarding the shifting nature of light and color. It often used large, quick brush strokes.

Example of Impressionism: “Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet, 1872



Expressionism (n) – A style of painting (and other art forms) that seeks to portray internal experiences by distorting the image of external reality

Example of Expressionism: “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, 1893



Avante-garde (adj. or noun) – Experimental, new, or unusual ideas in art

Example: Marina Abramović does controversial and avant-garde performance art.

Surrealism (n) – A 20th-century art movement which sought to explore the creative potential of the unconscious mind, often using odd or seemingly-random combinations of images; explicitly of or pertaining to dreaming

Example of Surrealism: “The Elephant Celebes,” Max Ernst, 1921 (Olga’s Gallery, PD-US,

The_Elephant_Celebes Max Ernst 1921


Cubism (n) – A 20th-century art movement that depicted images from more than one perspective, making use of geometric shapes and planes

Example of Cubism: “Girl with a Mandolin,” Pablo Picasso, 1910 (PD-US,



Modernism (n) – A Western philosophical and artistic movement in the early 20th century that arose from rapidly-changing culture, including urbanization, industrialization, and the horrors of World War I. It broke with earlier traditions, religion, and the certainty of logical Enlightenment thinking.

Example: Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Piet Mondrian, and Marcel Duchamp were all considered modernist artists.

Ukiyo-E Japanese Woodblock Printing (n) – A style of Japanese art popular in the 17th through 19th centuries, made by printing from carved wooden blocks and characterized by bold, flat lines

Example of Ukiyo-E Japanese Woodblock Printing: “Triptych of Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre,” c.1844, Utagawa Kuniyoshi


Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy (n) – A style of painting characters emphasizing motion and dynamic balance

Example: “On Calligraphy,” Mi Fu, Song Dynasty (960–1279)



Shan Shui Chinese Brush Painting (n) – One of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world, painting using water-based ink and ink washes on paper or silk, most often depicting landscapes and nature. Human figures are often quite small compared to the landscape, emphasizing humans’ relationship to nature.

Example: A hanging scroll painted by Ma Lin on or before 1246


African Sculpture and Masks (n) – Often highly stylized depictions of the human figure created by (or in the style of) traditional tribal African artists using natural materials, most often wood

Example: Mambila Statuette, Nigeria, Siren-Com, date unknown (


Cave Paintings (n) – The first known example of human art, paintings done on cave walls for unknown purposes, dating back to 40,000 BCE

Example: “Cave of the Beasts,” Northern Africa, c. 5000 BCE

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of when you hear the word “art.”
  • Who are some of your favorite artists?
  • What are some of your favorite historical periods regarding art?
  • Do you like the art of any countries or cultures in particular?
  • How do you think modern art compares to art of the past?
  • If you could spend the day with one artist, living or dead, who would you choose?
  • When was the last time you went to an art museum? What was it like?
  • How do you think the East has influenced the art of the West?
  • How do you think the West has influenced the art of the East?
  • How do you think African art has influenced art globally?
  • What place does art have in your life?
  • Do you make any kinds of art yourself? If you don’t right now, what have you made in the past?
  • What artistic skills would you most like to develop in yourself?
  • What do you think is more important when making art, skill or inspiration?
  • Do you think artists deserve the stereotype of being irresponsible?
  • Do you think humans would “be human” without art?
  • Does art influence politics or war?
  • Does art influence science?
  • Do you think that “art” is the best way to express creativity? What other kinds of activities can express human creativity?


Discussion Part II: Quotations about Art

Read the following quotations about art by artists, writers, and philosophers. Do you agree with them? Why or why not?  


“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso


“Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.”

Oscar Wilde


“All Art is quite useless.”

Oscar Wilde


“Creativity takes courage. ”

Henri Matisse


“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”

Coco Chanel


“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso


“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

Vincent van Gogh


“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

Vincent van Gogh


“We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

Friedrich Nietzsche


“The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

Anton Chekhov


“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”

Martha Graham


“He who works with his hands is a laborer.

He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

Francis of Assisi


“Art is what you can get away with.”

Andy Warhol

Note: The “featured image” of this page is Wassily Kandinsky’s “Houses in Munich,” 1908