Visual Thinking, Poetry, and Gold

By Beth Dobberstein, posted on Sep 8, 2021

“Have you found the book of gold?” This was the question posed in a book that our reading specialist used to promote literacy at our school. The Book of Gold by Bob Staake (Random House Children’s Books, 2017) is about a little boy who wasn’t interested in anything, especially books. After a shopkeeper sends him on a journey to find a book that turns into gold, the boy discovers a world filled with wonderings and questions that lead to a life centered around curiosity.

SchoolArts magazine, October 2021 issue, Visual Thinking, Poetry, and Gold
Arden H., Hiding Cheetah, grade five.
SchoolArts magazine, October 2021 issue, Visual Thinking, Poetry, and Gold
Left: Terry K., The Queen of Gold, grade six. Right: Belle P., The Fearful Peacock, grade six.
SchoolArts magazine, October 2021 issue, Visual Thinking, Poetry, and Gold
Miken H., I’ve Been Framed!, grade five.
SchoolArts magazine, October 2021 issue, Visual Thinking, Poetry, and Gold
Sara V., The Rising Sun, grade six.

I asked my fifth- and sixth-grade students, “Where do artists get their ideas?“ After a burst of responses ranging from nature to experiences, we came to the conclusion that “Great artists are curious and wonder about everything.” Those conversations made me wonder if curiosity could be taught, and if so, what impact does being curious have on what my students choose to create?

The Book of Gold
We started our discussion with The Book of Gold. We talked about what life would have been like for the child if he remained uninterested in the world around him. Next, we discussed how wondering about things leads to curiosity. I provided students with images from a variety of sources, such as wildlife calendars and magazines. Each student selected a thought-provoking image.

Students talked among themselves about the questions the images raised. Some students chose the same image, but discovered they were curious about the image for different reasons. Using a pencil, students sketched some or all of the image, then used yellow or gold-colored pencils, crayons, oil pastels, and markers to enhance their drawings.

The Lady in Gold
During the second class period, I showed students an image of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (also called The Lady in Gold). We began with a quick Visual Thinking Strategy devised from the Harvard Graduate School’s Project Zero:

“I see”—List everything you see.
“I think”—What do you think is going on? What do you see that makes you think that?
“I wonder”—What questions do you have about this piece of art?

After the exercise, we discussed how participating in a Visual Thinking Strategy can make us more curious about art. I shared the amazing story behind Klimt’s painting. We compared The Book of Gold with The Lady in Gold, and talked about how both could help us to be more curious. We also discussed the symbolism of gold as being similar to knowledge and enlightenment as well as gold being used as an artistic medium. Students then glued pieces of gold paper and added gold paint to their drawings. Lastly, students outlined and added details to their work using black permanent markers.

Writing Poetry
During the third class period, students worked as a group to write an “I Am” poem using The Lady in Gold as the subject matter. Following the activity, students created their own “I Am” poem using their chosen image. Students presented their art and finished poem to the class. Their fellow classmates responded to the art and to the poetry with the snapping of their fingers in poetry slam fashion of appreciation.

The simple Visual Thinking Strategies conducted in class encouraged students to think deeply and wonder about an unfamiliar subject matter. Allowing time for students to respond and reflect on the content of their artwork increased engagement and promoted an environment of curiosity where students felt connected to their art.

We displayed the art along with the poems in the school hallway with a sign that read, “We found The Book of Gold!” While walking down the hallway, I heard a student ask another student as they gazed up at a beautiful gold rabbit, “How can bunnies jump so high?” So, has your class found The Book of Gold?

Beth Dobberstein is an art teacher at Eagle Elementary in Eagle, Wisconsin.

National Standard
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Woman in Gold

View this article in the digital edition.