Interpreting art – Part 1 – The frames

Students will criticise works by professional artists and engage in the practise and processes of creating their own works.

Students will develop an understanding of how the frames provide different ways to interpret artworks and make artworks informed by this understanding.


  • 4.7 explores aspects of practice in critical and historical interpretations of art.
  • 4.9 begins to acknowledge that art can be interpreted from different points of view.
  • 5.7 applies their understanding of aspects of practice to critical and historical interpretations of art.
  • 5.9 demonstrates how the frames provide different interpretations of art.


3-4 weeks.


The frames are constructed to give students a means for analysing art from multiple perspectives. When completing this unit, students will explore a range of artworks and develop an understanding of the ways that different perspectives affect meaning.

  • Literacy
  • Difference and diversity
  • Information and communication technology.


All activities require students to demonstrate their learning and are all assessment for learning activities.

Teaching and learning activities

Students will complete the slideshow Introduction to VA terminology.

You'll need:

In groups, students will:

  • select one of the artworks above
  • assign a frame to explore the artwork. For example -
    • The Subjective frame: Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893,
    • The Structural frame: Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889,
    • The Cultural frame: Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937
    • The Post Modern frame: Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931
    • use the elements and principles of design to create a frame on the butchers paper that portrays a perspective of looking at that artwork through that view. Repeat this process again on another artwork from the list.
  • discuss how each frame changed the perspectives of the artworks around the room The Frames infographic (PDF 5.709 KB) provides guided questions to assist with this)
  • answer the following questions in their diary or blog
  1. How are the frames different?
  2. How do the frames influence your perspective?

Critical analysis

The Scream and the subjective frame

Image: Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893 date accessed 090318.

Students will:

  • read the article What is the meaning of The Scream?
  • write a word bank of any terms they are unfamiliar with in the article
  • write a story using the word bank above as descriptive language to support their view from the subjective frame and describe what is happening to the subject matter within the artwork
  • discuss the use of descriptive language and how it influences the perspective of the reader in both the historical and critical text excerpt
  • highlight the subjective language examples within historical and critical analysis (an example has been provided below).

Historical text

The exhibition at the Neue Galerie explores the relationship between Munch, who was born the second of five children to an impoverished military doctor in 1863, and the avant-garde Expressionist art movement that emerged in Germany and Austria in the early years of the 20th Century. Although the show concentrates on the latter stages of the artist's career (Munch died in 1944), it still finds room for The Scream of 1895, which he created three years after first arriving in Berlin, where he quickly made a notorious name for himself.

It was in Germany, during several creatively frenzied years, while fraternising with like-minded artists and writers, such as his close friend August Strindberg, at a bar called the Black Piglet, that Munch created the major paintings which remain his best-known works, including The Vampire and Madonna. They were conceived for his epic, semi-autobiographical series The Frieze of Life, which transmuted his own high-keyed emotions concerning love, sexuality and death into universal symbols. The original, 1893 version of The Scream was one of 22 elements in the cycle.

Critical text

Beneath a boiling sky, aflame with yellow, orange and red, an androgynous figure stands upon a bridge. Wearing a sinuous blue coat, which appears to flow, surreally, into a torrent of aqua, indigo and ultramarine behind him, he holds up two elongated hands on either side of his hairless, skull-like head.

His eyes wide with shock, he unleashes a bloodcurdling shriek. Despite distant vestiges of normality - two figures upon the bridge, a boat on the fjord - everything is suffused with a sense of primal, overwhelming horror.

Text extracts from What is the meaning of The Scream? BBC, date accessed /09/03/18.

Image: The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889 date accessed 09/03/18.

Students will:

  • read through the information on the website Artble Starry Night Analysis
  • draw a quick sketch of the work
  • identify the picture plane and patterns within the art. The analysis below has an example of this.
Image: Example analysis of The stary night.
  • create a Sway presentation outlining their knowledge of the structural facts on the composition of the artwork.
Image: Guernica by Pablo Picasso - 1937

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937 date accessed 09/03/18

Students will:

  • watch the following videos as an introduction to the meaning of the artwork
  • Use the internet to research and create a newspaper article (referencing the artwork of Guernica) about the events that took place in Spain in 1937
  • highlight signs and symbols from within the painting that suggest factual information to the reader.
Image: The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali - 1931

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931 date accessed 09/03/18.

Students will:

Image: Ascanius shooting the stag of Sylvia by Claude Lorrain - 1682

Claude Lorrain, Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, 1682, date accessed 09/03/19.

  • answer the following questions:
    • What elements of design have been applied to both?
    • How have these been manipulated within Dali's representation of his world to communicate the 'surreal' as opposed to the 'sublime'? Define these terms in relation to the examples above.
  • creating an advertisement campaign for an exhibition of the artwork which justifies its overall meaning.

Written responses are documented and shared within collaborative discussion facilitated by the teacher.

Students are to:

  • document the process of their artmaking within a journal. This can be their visual arts process diary, or an online blog through sites such as Google classroom.
  • photograph or sketch the process used.



Students could:

  • deconstruct and reconstruct The Persistence of Memory by selecting one or two of the elements of design and recreating the artwork (either digitally in a software platform such a photoshop or manually)
    • For example, in selecting shapes and colours, remove the colours from some of the objects within the artwork to make them black and white, move them, rotate them, resize them and even replace them with popular cultured objects to change the meaning in the artwork.
  • write an artist statement clarifying the representation that you have created.

Life skills


  • LS 5 recognises that various interpretations of artworks are possible.

Students could:

  • select one of the artworks from the series of lessons above and find a quote for each of the frames to describe that interpretation
  • explain to the class what they think the artwork means and why
  • change the frame of an artwork to take on a new meaning
  • present their new artwork to the class.


Feedback is formative for the duration of the project.


Please note:

Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Visual Arts 7–10 Syllabus (2003) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

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