Diego Rivera and Close Reading

Close reading is the new buzz word in our classrooms. It is traditionally associated with literacy, the close reading of text. But text can be many different things, not just a traditional book or article. Text can also be a painting, sculpture, piece of music or graphic. Close reading might be the new buzz word in our elementary classrooms but it is something we art and music teachers have been doing for decades.

Essentially, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension. A good example of close reading in the art room is the lesson third graders just finished. They began this lesson with a close reading of the text of Diego Rivera’s labor murals in Detroit.

In close reading, there is a focus on observing and analyzing. The same questions that classroom teachers use to probe for deeper understanding in reading are the same questions we art teachers use as well. Remember, the text is the murals.

  • Who is speaking in the text?
  • Who seems to be the main audience? (To whom is the artist speaking?)
  • What is the first thing that jumps out at me? Why?
  • What’s the next thing I notice? Are these two things connected? How? Do they seem to be saying different things?
  • What seems important here? Why?
  • What does the artist mean by ______? What parts of the mural lead me to this meaning?
  • Is the artist trying to convince me of something? What? How do I know?
  • Is there something missing from this mural that I expected to find? Why might the artist have left this out?
  • Is there anything that could have been explained more thoroughly for greater clarity?
  • Is there a message or main idea? What in the text led me to this conclusion?
  • How does this painting fit into the murals as a whole?
  • What symbols are present? Why did the artist choose these symbols?
  • What images(s) stand out? Why? (typically vivid images, unusual choices, or a contrast to what a reader expects)
  • How do particular images get us to look at characters or events in a particular way? Do they evoke an emotion?
  • Are there any images that could have more than one meaning? Why might the artist have played with images in this way?
  • What one word describes the tone?
  • Does an image here remind you of an image elsewhere in the mural? Where? What’s the connection?
  • How might this image fit into the pattern of the mural as a whole?
  • Is there any repetition within the mural? What is the effect of that repetition?

The questioning could go on forever. Once the students get started in this line of questioning, they get really excited about it. I’m also very excited because students start to see the artwork in a whole new way!

After an in depth discussion prompted by the close reading of the text, students brainstormed what labor they see in their own communities.

From here, students got into groups depending on which labor group they wanted to focus on and started brainstorming the people in those groups. Who collects our garbage? Who grows our food? Who delivers our mail? Who fixes our pipes? Who builds the buildings? etc.

The next class, students started sketches of murals they would then create in groups inspired by labor in their own communities and Deigo Rivera’s murals.

Standards in this lesson:

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.6 Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)

MMSD Social Studies Standards

Examine Madison’s history (i.e.energy, transportation, communication, art, architecture).
Recognize and interpret how the “common good” can be strengthened through various forms of citizen action.\

Describe the ways people participate in the community in order to provide goods and services whether through paid or volunteer activities.
Explain why people specialize in different occupations and describe how that specialization leads to increasing interdependence between producers and consumers in a community.
Recognize systems that are developed to meet specific community needs: government, transportation, education, communications.
Define a community as an interdependent group of people living and working together.
Demonstrates an ability to interact within a group while performing various group roles (i.e. organizing, planning, and goal setting).
Apply and practice skills of conflict resolution (persuasion, compromise, debate, and negotiation).

MMSD Art Standards

Identify the subject matter or story communicated through art.

Identify and use color, shapes, line, texture, and space in works of art.

Recognize and use previously introduced elements, media, techniques, and processes and will continue to expand their knowledge which includes:

1. Drawing as a planning tool for later use with a variety of media.
2. Drawing with contour line.
3. The techniques and processes of color mixing which include secondary colors
Describe artwork and will continue to develop this skill.
Participate in group discussions describing artwork.
Identify subject matter and feeling found in art. Identify the narrative qualities of artwork, i.e. cultural meaning and illustrations.
Create artwork with various subject matter, symbols, and emotional content.
View styles and techniques of a limited number of artists, and/or cultures past and present.
Start recognizing the principles of art in various art disciplines
Recognize endless relationships between visual arts and other
disciplines, i.e. Observation drawing – social studies, science Landscape painting – science, social studies
MMSD Social Emotional Standards
Students will work cooperatively with partner and in small groups.
Students will identify and practice strategies for resolving conflicts constructively.
Students will recognize that they have choices in how to respond to situations.