Welcome back to my Art Round-Up series where I curate groups of paintings around themes for use in your home or classroom. Each post, I will pick 5 artworks that you could start discussing today with your kids. Today’s topic is artwork to promote introspection. These are great artworks to sit down with and use as inspiration to write in your journal.
Also, check out this post on how to look at art with kids for tips on discussion artworks.
Note about the images in this series: Because of copyright law, I cannot include pictures of all the works discussed. Instead, I have included low-quality thumbnails for reference and commentary. For full versions of those works protected under the law, please click the link or picture to find the image.
Recommended Age: All ages can do this in some form.
1. Shen Zhou, Poet on a Mountaintop, c. 1500
This is a Chinese brush painting from the Ming dynasty. Artists in this style used only black ink and water as a way to focus on artistic expression in other ways. They used a variety of different types of expressive brushstrokes in a range of values (lights and darks) from white to black. You’ll notice the people are very small in comparison with the surroundings which connects with their Buddhist beliefs that humans are a small part of nature. They created exaggerated landscapes to reinforce this idea.
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2. Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror, 1932
This is my probably favorite painting, although that is a hard choice (I love all my babies the same). This certainly is the artwork that has had the biggest impact on me. It made me weep for some reason and change the whole course of my life at that moment in time. Picasso believed his paintings should speak for themselves. I will tell you my own personal interpretation of this painting, but you are free to make your own. To me, this is a regular girl on the outside, nondescript. She looks into the mirror and sees her inner self reflected in turmoil and pain. It’s twisted and dark with hot orange tears. The girl in the mirror is shy, but she has a story to tell. She wants out, but is feeling pulled into herself. The girl before the mirror is reaching towards the mirror to connect with and soothe the girl on the inside. She wants to free the girl in the mirror and make her heard.
Check out these Girl Before a Mirror products. Please note, this post includes Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
- Pablo Picasso: Girl before a Mirror (One on One) – A book just about this painting alone
- 16×20 Poster Print or 11×14 Framed Poster Print
3. Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), c. 28,000 B.C.E – 25,000 B.C.E.
Meet “Venus of Willendorf.” I’m sure you have seen her before. She was made by paleolithic people about 26,000 to 30,000 years ago. Stop a minute and think about how long ago that was. Yeah. Wow. We know very little about her because she was made before writing and before formal history. Her name was given to her much later; we have no reason to believe she is an actual goddess. We can make guesses though. We guess that she is in some way connected to fertility. Why do you reckon we think that? All of the parts of her that are related to childbirth are exaggerated while all of the other parts like feet, hands, and face are small and non-functional. She is only about 4.25 inches tall and is one of many of these types of sculptures found from this time period.
I think she is a good starting point for journaling to put your life and where you are in this moment in perspective. Thinking about the span of your life in the scale 30,000 years makes you more connected with all the people who have lived before you. You can also look at this and think about how drastically different our lives are today and imagine what it would be like to live in another time. Also, what will be left of your life when archaeologists look back on it in thousands of year?
Click here for a great YouTube video from the Khan Academy’s “Smarthistory” series about this sculpture.
4. Candy Chang, Before I Die, 2011+
In 2009, the Candy Chang lost someone very close to her suddenly, and it inspired her to think about life and what is most important to her. In response, she converted an old building in New Orleans to an interactive public art piece by making a big wall into a chalkboard with the phrase “Before I die…” written on it many times with blank lines following. Within days, the wall was filled with inspirational goals and aspirations by the people walking by. It became a place to reflect on goals and connect people together. Now, there are walls all over the world with the same message and a book about the experience.
Click here for the artist’s incredibly moving TED Talk about this piece.
Buy the book (Before I Die *Amazon Affiliate link)!
5. Do-Ho Suh, Floor, 1997-2000
If you were to happen upon this artwork at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, or at the 2001 Venice Biennale where I has the great pleasure of visiting, you would see a glass floor with many colored dots underneath. As you get closer you notice that hundreds or little plastic action figures of everyday people hold up the weight of you and the glass floor. Walking on top of these people you might think about the power of community–how the individual is small but the collective is powerful. You might think about all the people who support you in your day to day life who go unseen–from the people across the world who make your clothes or the men and women who pick up your weekly trash.
Here’s a video discussing this artwork. (Side note: Nerdfighters may recognize the person in this video!)
Also, Season 2, episode 1 of art:21 discusses the work of Do-Ho Suh (Here is a link to this episode).
Thanks for reading! Think about one of these artworks in relationship to your life. Please share a personal connection you had with the art in the comments!