How to Talk to Kids About Art

I wanted to close this traveling exhibit week with some tips I used during my Traveling Exhibit to talk to kids about art.

Imagine this scenario:

Day 1 of exhibit. Art teacher is very excited. Lots of people making comments about traveling display. This what I hear:

“Those are pretty”….. “What beautiful artwork” …. “These are so neat!”

My little art teacher heart shatters and soars at the same time. Why? Well, you see, I am so excited because people are actually TALKING about artwork. I am so deflated because people are using the most basic and un-expressive words to talk about this artwork! I mean, “pretty”? (that came from my school principal..shhhhh..don’t tell.) Cringe.  But can I blame them? It is up to me as the art teacher to educate, to advocate and to teach the students and parents  how to talk about artwork and facilitate conversations about artwork.  And in their defense, the exhibits are beautiful, but they are a whole lot more.

I immediately set to work.

First, I dug in and did some research. Of course, the resources from Teacher’s Discovery were very helpful starting points.  I also called upon this is handy little book I own. It’s called “How to Talk to Children About Art” and I use it as a pocket guide when I am starting a new lesson to hopefully add something interesting to the conversation I have with students.  I thought it may have just the information I was looking for to facilitate Van Gogh.

The book gave me some very helpful tips:

  • Use the Elements and Principles of Design as a starting point (what shapes, lines, colors, textures, etc do you see?)
  • Make sure your questions are age appropriate and adjust your questioning appropriately.
  • Connect it to the student’s life and interests
  • Ask students about emotions they feel when looking at the art and how it makes them feel
  • Link to Literature: What story does this painting tell?

I also made this poster:

I encouraged students to use dollar words or million dollar phrases instead of penny words when they talk about artwork. They really latched onto this concept and the responses I got were beyond my expectations. I had this poster hanging next to the traveling display all week.

How do you facilitate conversations with students when looking at and talking about artwork?

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • I like the poster you made- a very good visual way to show kids how to start the art conversation. I do notice, though- a lot of the links you put in your blog do not work…..It happened on this blog and another one. Any idea why???

    Keep the great ideas coming!

  • Thanks for letting me know about the links, Jennifer! I had a few glitches there, but I have worked out the problem. Gotta love technology- Again- I appreciate it!

  • Terrific post!! I to love that people (students and teachers) are noticing the art work in the hallways- any yes I cringe as well at some of the words used to describe the art work. I am going to work on my “Money” poster 2night!! great idea :). The book looks great I will look for it!

  • This is an incredible lesson…I am so stealing this! I love the penny, dollar, and million dollar conversations! I can not wait to give this one a try!

    • Thanks, Angela! The cool thing is, the kids instantly latched onto the concept. They would say things like “Oh that is only a penny word, I’ve got a million dollar phrase!” and were so excited to share. I hope to use it on our next gallery walk or art critique, too!

  • I love the poster too. I’ve heard of these, but never seen one. Now that I realize the impact of it visually, I know I’ll be adding one to my classroom!!

    • I am thinking of turning this large poster into one of my visuals- Look for it soon!

  • I think some of these words could go well with ‘itty bitty’ papers!

  • This is great. We are doing assessments too and this could be a great resource for me! Thanks!

  • Natalie Tanner

    Simply marvelous! Easy to understand and get those wheels turning for the kiddos. I love it!!