Make Art History Sticky: Using Hooks to Help Students Learn

A few years ago, I read a book by Chip and Dan Heath titled Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The basic principle of this book is that the more hooks you can attach to something, the stickier, or easier to remember, it becomes.

Armed with this knowledge, I began looking for hooks that I could use in my Art History class. The following is a proven, though perhaps unorthodox, chronological list of hooks that will improve your students’ ability to memorize artists.

Time Period: Middle Ages
Hook: Man Babies
Before the rediscovery of Greek proportions by Renaissance artists, artists of the Middle Ages paid little attention to correct human proportions, especially when it came to children and babies. A popular subject of the time, the Madonna and Child, presents Jesus as a baby but with the proportions of an adult… or man baby. Whenever my students see a man baby, they instantly label the image as pre-Renaissance.



Artist: Rembrandt 
Hook: Rememberandt
When reviewing the works of Rembrandt, I always ask, “Does anyone rememberandt who this is by?” Do this a few times and it will stick. Students will soon be telling you, “I rememberandt who painted that!”

Artist: Manet
Hook: Uses Black
The good majority of impressionists didn’t use black paint but instead placed complimentary colors side by side. Manet, although considered the founder of Impressionism, didn’t mind using black. If an art student sees black in an Impressionist painting, he or she can safely guess it will be a Manet.



Artist: Renoir
Hook: Red Hats
Artists tend to have a consistent palette of colors that repeat in their pieces. Renoir’s color of choice is red, particularly when addressing headwear. Notice the hats, scarves and bows on the heads of Renoir’s subjects. Renoir paints red hats.

Artist: Degas
Hook: It’s a Ballerina
Many artists have a favorite subject to paint. Perhaps none is more obvious than Degas’ ballerinas. I tell my students their are three keys to look for when identifying a work by Degas. 1. It has strong stage light, or it’s a ballerina. 2. It has interesting angles, or it’s a ballerina. 3. It looks like a snapshot photo, or it’s a ballerina… Or it’s a ballerina!

Artist: Seurat
Hook: Rhymes with Dot
The pointillist artist Seurat painted with little dots. It’s really as simple as that.

Artist: Kirchner
Hook: People Look like the letter K
The figures in the paintings by expressionist artist Kirchner, have very sharp angles. Upon closer investigation, one could conclude that the angles are so sharp they form the letter K. K is for Kirchner.



Artist: Kandinsky
Hook: Looks like Candy
Not only do many of Kandinsky’s works look like candy, his name sounds like candy. Its a very easy hook to attach.



Try these hooks in your class. You will be delighted not only in how quickly your students are able to remember these artists, but for how long the knowledge stays with them.

Do you use hooks in your classroom?

Share your best hook below. Let’s create a resource for us all to draw from! 

Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Melissa

    This is awesome stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lori Johnson

    Great article with so many easy-to-use ideas! I teach elementary and use “Seurat, the Dot” to help students remember Georges Seurat. With kinder I teach a lesson on Piet Mondrian. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but we talk about how his name would have been pronounced in his native land and then how many would have pronounced it in America. So, my hook is “Meet Neat Piet (Pete).” They not only remember his name, but also something of his style this way! Thanks so much for sharing your ideas!

  • Mrs. Petersen

    My high school art teacher used these with us and I try to incorporate them into my elementary art classes as well. Every time I see a Cezanne I hear her saying “Cezanne, apple man” in my head!

  • art teacher

    Thanks for sharing! Though, wasn’t it Monet (not Manet) who was considered the founder of Impressionism, with his painting Impression, Sunrise???

    A trick I use with my student to remember Seurat is that is sounds like “Sir. Dot”

    • Ryan Thomas

      Identifying the founder of Impressionism is tricky. I, too, tell students that Monet’s Impression– Sunrise gave a name to the Impressionist movement. Yet then I read Gardner’s Art through the Ages, II (Tenth ed.). “Although the term Impressionism was first used in 1874 by a journalist ridiculing a landscape by Monet called Impression– Sunrise, the battle over the merits of Impressionist painting began eleven years earlier with Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe….” (page 980).

  • Katgirldu

    “Pointillism, pointillism, dot, dot, dot
    Pointillism, pointillism, George Seurat.”

  • Chris Behnke

    Pointed arches = Gothic style!

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