Use this strategy to guide students through a close analysis of an image. By following the steps in this image-analysis procedure, students develop awareness of historical context, develop critical thinking skills, enhance their observation and interpretive skills, and develop conceptual learning techniques. You can use this strategy with any visual media, including a piece of art, photograph, political cartoon, propaganda poster, or video clip.
Select an Image
Choose an image that lends itself to deep analysis by students. This analysis strategy works best when the image is one that reflects (intentionally or not) a particular opinion, point of view, or perspective. Visual art, propaganda images, photographs, and political cartoons are good examples of visual media that reflect a perspective.
Lead Students through Analysis
Share the image with students by providing copies or by projecting or displaying it in the classroom. Lead students slowly through the following six steps, pausing between each step to give them significant time for thinking and writing.
Ask students to look deeply at the picture for a good long time. Have them observe shapes, colors, textures, the position of people and/or objects, etc.
Have students write down what they see without making any interpretation about what the picture is trying to say.
Ask students: What questions do you have about this picture that you would need to have answered before you can begin to interpret it? Ask as many questions as you have.
Have students discuss their questions with two other students in the class to try to find some answers.
Given the historical context and subject of the piece, ask students what they think the artist is trying to say (what does the piece mean), and who they think is the intended audience?
Discuss your interpretation with the class, and be prepared to support your view by referring to specific elements of the image and what you know about the history of the time.
Discuss the Process
Take a few moments to discuss with students how they experienced this process of analyzing visual media. For many, it may feel uncomfortably slow, but by practicing and discussing this process, students will begin to respond more thoughtfully and critically to the images they encounter every day.
Students analyze a self-portrait by Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak and reflect on how art can be used as a tool to understanding historical moments.