A Dialogue With Art: Practicing Cognizant Reasoning of Visual Art

A Dialogue With Art: Practicing Cognizant Reasoning of Visual Art


         Doctor Maxine Greene, a professor of educational philosophy at Columbia University, once said that “works of art do not by themselves uncover their deep connotations nor do they immediately reveal themselves to their viewers”. Rather, in order to understand a painting, it is necessary to repeatedly observe, carefully consider, use the imagination, and have a keen feeling, in order to expose the hidden meaning in the layers of the work.

There are many different techniques and methods available to guide children to exercising visual thinking. From observation, description, and interpretational inference step by step in order from start to finish, the purpose is to hope through the visual inspiration, to develop children's ability to think critically and form thinking system. These habits must be taught, trained, and practiced repeatedly in childhood. In previous texts, we discussed the principles of guidance, observation, description, and interpretation. This piece will discuss reasoning, which will aid children in thinking critically and developing better analytical skills for the future.

We can look at art, such as Henri Matisse's "Woman with a Hat", to help children learn to accept different perspectives and opinions; having children of the same or similar age helps with discussion. Adults can use the following steps to guide children:


First, tell students they will be getting acquainted with art from French artist Henri Matisse.


1. Observation - Ask children to observe the work for 2-3 minutes together. (Do not suggest ideas.)


2. Description - Ask children to describe the work, but do not give your own insight.


3. Interpretation - First explain the concept of interpretation. We are trying to find the inner meaning of the artwork and the answer to a riddle, the clues for which are in the artwork itself.


Then, you can ask: What feelings and ideas do you think Matisse is trying to convey? You can use the 5 W’s:


Who: “Who is the subject?”

What: ”What is the theme?”

When: ”When is the content of the painting set?”

Where: ”What place or location is depicted?”

Why: ”Why did the artist create this work the way he or she did?”


Encourage different answers and ideas


4. Reasoning - Introduce the meaning of “reasoning” to the children, so they can think of  their own interpretation of the reasons for their ideas. Tell them to share what they think of this painting and support it with reasoning.


Ask: "What do you see in this picture?"

Interpreting: “There is a lady, but she seems very unhappy.”

Ask: “What in the picture makes you feel that way? What is the reason for your answer?”

Reasoning: “Because she wore a beautiful hat, and her clothes are very luxurious.”

Ask: “Why do you think she is not happy? What is the reason?”

Reasoning: “Her face looks very sad and thin. She also has no smile.”


5. Reflection and Connection: To conclude this activity, ask children what they learned.


Ask: ”What are new views and ideas you have about this painting that you didn't have previously?”

Ask: ”How do concepts of observation, description, interpretation, and reasoning affect your view?”

Ask: ”Are there certain people with careers and jobs that need to think about observations, descriptions, interpretations, and reasonings?” (Such as scientists, novelists, journalists, etc.)

Ask: ”In your own life, how could you apply these ways of thinking?”



Henri Matisse

Woman With a Hat, 1950

Oil on Canvas, 80.6 x 59.7 cm

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco


"Woman With a Hat" is a portrait by Fauvist French artist Henri Matisse for his wife. Matisse brought about a revolution in color; the shadow in the neck of the woman is in fact a very bright orange, and her dark face is done with a lot of light blue, completely deviating from the traditional method of color coordination. Matisse‘s wife opened a women's hat shop in Paris and designed hats for ladies. So when Matisse portrayed his wife in painting, he was able to recreate a more detailed design of the lady's hat than the average painter.


Art is vastly different from other disciplines; there is no need for law and rules, so there is no absolute correct answer. Give children the opportunity to enjoy art and think about art. Having an individual temperament, unique viewpoint, and past experience allows one to have fruitful dialogue with and about art. Such dialogue not only inspires critical thinking, but will also benefit comprehensive analytical and cognitive skills in art, as well as life.


This article was published in the National Children's Paradise magazine in June 2005.