Analyzing narrative art teaches students how to observe and think critically about the world around them.
Narrative art is art that tells a story– it may be a particular moment, or a series of events over time. Powerful images can be analyzed for their storytelling qualities. By analyzing how artists approach issues like setting, theme, and point of view, we can help kids be critical of their own writing.
Narrative Art is particularly useful in teaching point of view. It allows students to interpret the meaning of the image from a variety of vantage points. In part one of this series, we looked at how the narrative art of Thomas Hart Benton helped us to understand setting, and in part two we looked at how Winslow Homer’s images can teach about conflict. Today we will look at Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, and discuss point of view.
Point of view is the way a story is told. There is first person, third person limited and third person omniscient.
First person limits the reader to one character’s perspective, and we understand the story through their eyes. We can recognize it because the writer uses the word ‘I’. We can see and feel everything that person does, but we can’t get into the head of anyone else.
Third person limited uses the pronouns he and/or she, and the narrator only knows the feelings and thoughts of one character. We can only experience other characters externally.
Third person omniscient is where the narrator knows all of the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters.
Don’t confuse perspective with point of view.
I often see this- confusion between point of view and perspective. Point of view is the way a story is written and determines how much we know about characters. In other words, how much of their inner thoughts and feelings we experience is dependent upon the point of view utilized in a story. Perspective is about who is actually telling the story. For example, in Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, the story could be told from the girl’s perspective, the guard’s perspective or even the perspective of someone throwing the fruit. Either of these perspectives could be told in any point of view.
Let’s look at Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With and write a story with a certain perspective and point of view.
Norman Rockwell, The Problem We All Live With, 1964
Part III: Story Element= Point of View
Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With.
An image can depict an actual specific event, as this one does. This painting was made in America in 1964, during a time of political and social upheaval. The name of the girl is Ruby Bridges and she is a six year old African American girl walking to school in an all-white public school system in New Orleans on November 14th, 1960.
Interesting stories can be written using this image as inspiration, and those stories may take very different turns depending on who is telling it. It may also be incorporated into a social studies curriculum. First have students analyze the image and discuss it with their peers. There are questions below that students should answer before writing their story. Students can then choose a person’s perspective and then a point of view.
Questions to elicit critical thinking and reflection:
What is happening in the image?
What was happening socially and politically in America in the early 1960’s?
What is the artist‘s perspective?
What does the body language of the people tell you, specifically their hands?
What is wrapped around the men’s arms?
What is the little girl doing? What is she thinking about? What does she want?
What are the people who threw the tomatoes thinking? What do they want?
What are the men in uniforms thinking? What are they doing?
This is also a wonderful image to evoke emotion, and I am sure these stories will be full of personal thoughts and reflections. Let me know how the stories went and any surprises you may have learned along the way!
Bonus: I found an interesting video of Ruby Bridges, the little girl in the picture, many years later talking to President Obama. The painting is currently at the Norman Rockwell Museum, but was hung for a time in the White House.
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