Engaging Students in Art Appreciation and Visual Literacy with Sushi and Velociraptors

Once again, I feel I am departing from traditional literacies and chasing after ways to engage students in alternative instruction. I wanted to share a display that I created at the middle school I work at, which began as a display encouraging the students to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art to see their new Vermeer exhibit. However, as I was searching for some recent articles on Vermeer to add to our book and flier display, I kept coming across one article from the end of October about a new Banksy installation called Girl with a Pierced Eardrum.

     The eponymous “pearl” has been replaced with an ADT alarm box, bringing humor to what I found to be a really stunning piece.  I’ve added the original on  for reference…

As this image came up again and again, I wondered what other interpretations of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring existed out there on the internet.  I was not disappointed…

  Image credit: Marco Sodano   Girl with a Pearl Earring sushi.        

Then Vermeer was Devoured by pageboy

I found six that I really liked and showed them to the librarian.  We decided that these reinterpretations might be a fun addition to our display, so we mounted them, added a sign that asked students to guess the materials used to create them and put the answers on the back. I get very excited when I see students, teachers and parents loitering around the display turning the pictures over.  I also think that there is value in bringing classical artistic expression down off its pedestal and making it accessible for students to engage with.


Accessible Visual Literacy:

Learn NC has an article and some useful resources for “Learning to look at art” (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/667). Melissa Thibault, the author, advocates for giving students the opportunity to explore and find the kind of art that inspires them personally, from impressionist masters to Ansel Adams. However, I would advocate for expanding that to pieces of art not traditionally found in museums.

Keith McPherson brings the discussion of visual literacy to mental images and how to build visual literacy starting from the pictures we get in our heads when we read. He gave ideas for activities like creating travel photo journals and bringing in local examples of professionals who work with visual literacy, like graphic designers and artisans, but also reminded us of the important of allowing students to “construct meaning using a variety of response options (e.g., sculpture, drama, drawings, painting, speech) rather than always insisting their writing be “front and center” and completed first” (McPherson, 2004).

T. Williams shares strategies for engaging elementary school aged students in visual literacy activities: writing stories to accompany pieces of art, discussing reactions to and observations on a piece in groups and more. What I liked about this article was the way Williams was inspired by visiting the National Gallery in London. The exhibit, “Tell Me a Picture,” was designed by beloved children’s book illustrator Quentin Blake to engage children, with illustrations connecting the paintings, which were hung at a child’s eye level (Williams, 2007). Not all museum are going to include such exhibits, but as educators, we should keep our eyes open for ways to engage students in visual literacy through a variety of means and make sure we take time to experience cultural activities, ourselves. They can inspire us!

Children National Gallery

(In the background, you can see that alphabet-themes illustrations from Quentin Blake that connect the paintings)


Focus on visual LITERACY. (2008). Knowledge Quest, 36(3), 58-59,68. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/194728471?accountid=14244         http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/194728471?accountid=14244

Thibault, M. (2003).  Learning to look at art.  Learn NC. Retrieved from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/667
Williams, T. L. (2007). “Reading” the painting: Exploring visual literacy in the primary grades. Reading Teacher, 60(7), 636-642. doi:10.1598/RT.60.7.4 https://auth-lib-unc-edu.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/ezproxy_auth.php?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ759039&site=ehost-live&scope=site










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