If I had to pick my favorite teaching method for art history, it probably would be compare and contrast. When you place two artworks next to each other, new ways of understanding the art can open up!
There are multiple ways to use compare and contrast with art:
- comparing works of art from the same art movement or period to look for commonalities and shared themes,
- comparing two depictions of the same subject,
- comparing works of art from one period with works from the period that came before,
- and probably many more!
Using Compare and Contrast to Teach Art History
In this post, I focus on comparing works from one period with art from the period that comes before. I love this method because in addition to reviewing prior knowledge, you teach students to discover the conventions of the art movement or period on their own.
It’s easy to tell students that the conventions of Baroque art are contrast between light and dark, intimate compositions, use of contemporary everyday models, foreshortening, etc, but they won’t remember it unless they find those things for themselves. When you put a Baroque artwork next to a Renaissance artwork, those conventions become immediately clear.
Use the following artwork pairs to have students better understand and connect with the conventions and themes of the art periods.
In my Italian Baroque lesson (which you can download as a member of The Art Curator for Kids Resource Library), I have 4 sets of images that I print have students compare and contrast in small groups. My favorite set is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus.
Lead a discussion on these artworks being sure to note the differences in the lighting, the people, the setting/background, the positions of the people, the lines, and the colors.
Resource Library Subscribers: Download the Baroque Art PowerPoint.
After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, art took a drastic turn from the focus on man to the focus on God. I love to compare this Roman mosaic with the mosaic of Justinian and his attendant.
The differences in subject matter are clear. The Roman artwork glorifies the strength and the body of man while the Byzantine artwork no longer shows the men with realistic proportions. Students will note the differences in body proportions, the use of color and pattern, and the Byzantine complexity vs. the Roman simplicity.
Resource Library Subscribers: Download the Byzantine PowerPoint.
Romanesque is kind of a weird art period to teach. It is so varied and transitional. Putting a Romanesque building next to a Gothic really trains students to look closely at details and notice the glory and impressive engineering of a Gothic Cathedral!
Check out this past post on teaching Gothic architecture for more information about this side-by-side.
Resource Library Subscribers: Download the Gothic PowerPoint.
The honor and stoicism of Neoclassical art is a great contrast to the emotional turmoil of Romanticism. Compare David’s Oath of the Horatii with Delacroix’s Lady Liberty Leading the People.
Patriotism and nationalism are key themes in both of these art movements, but this manifested in their art in incredible different ways. These artworks work really well to with a poetry writing exercise. Have students write haikus about the paintings, and then compare the language used in each.
Resource Library Subscribers: Download the 18th-19th-Century Art PowerPoint.
I find Post-Impressionism a little harder to teach than other art movements. It’s mainly just a collection of artists in this strange transition period between Impressionism and Modern Art. It’s Impressionism but it’s not. It’s Fauvism but it’s not.
Putting a Van Gogh next to a Monet works because you can really notice the addition of emotion. I describe Post-Impressionism to my students as Impressionism+Emotion+Bolder, Unrealistic Colors.
Resource Library Subscribers: Download the Impressionism PowerPoint here. I don’t have one on Post-Impressionism yet, because it’s harder to teach. 🙂
What other artworks do you like to compare and contrast with your students? Please share in the comments!
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