Card games for art history

Art history classes, more than any other, seem to take a time-honored form.  Next slide, please…

I show plenty of PowerPoints (and Prezis, and museum websites)in my AP Art History class, but more and more I find myself looking for new ways to play with the images–not only to make class livelier, but to help my girls see the art in a different, less linear, way.

I find I love using cards (images printed on quarter-page card stock—with a good Inkjet printer on glossy stock, the reproduction is excellent) for all kinds of things.  With a deck of cards, they can group them, rearrange them, choose a single work to concentrate on or (as we do before the final exam) see a visual overview of the entire year spread out on the floor.  We’re always inventing new games,  but some that have worked particularly well include:

  • Dominoes:  Deal the whole deck out evenly, saving one card to turn face up in the middle.  In turn, each girl must place one of her images next to an open card, identifying it and explaining what the connection is.  At the start of the year, I allow any connection at all, but as the year goes on we usually tighten the rules, disallowing, say, similarities of medium, material, or country of origin.  This forces girls to think broadly about what works have in common and about the very many ways there are to categorize art.
  • The Depth Game:  The first girl draws a card and must talk about the image, without stopping, for one minute.  She then passes it to the next player, who does the same, and so on, until a player is unable to fill her minute without repeating.  The last person to talk successfully for a minute keeps the card.  This is a great game to show girls how much they already know and also to push them beyond obvious comments to a deeper analysis.  We usually stop playing this around mid-year, because the girls get too good at it.
  • Museum:  Spread out all the available cards (this works best for big reviews with many images).  Each girl chooses five cards to create a themed exhibit.  They then conduct a tour of their exhibit, pointing out differences and commonalities and explaining why their theme is important to our understanding of art or history or both.  This is, again, an exercise in making unexpected connections and thinking across stylistic lines.  Recent “exhibits” have included images of power, works no longer in the place they were made, and works showing hairstyles (the narration of this last was a perceptive commentary on the ways fashion shapes a historical sense of self).

There are obviously an infinite number of possible variations, which keeps things fun.  If you come up with a variation you like, I’d love to hear about it!


About wordsarestrong

I teach history at an independent school in California.
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