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Christmas cards are a great resource of imagery. Much of their design is narrative or story-based imagery, such as the Nativity or simply just children playing in the snow, or bringing wood home for the fire. So this provides a good opportunity to help train your eye, or the kids’ eyes, in making analysis of narrative images.

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If you would like to encourage your kids – even the very little ones – to begin to look at art and design with exploring eyes here’s a game to pass the time at Christmas. We’ve got a selection of images here that you can use too, all of which are from the Open Access site at the wonderful National Gallery of Art in Washington. The images here are typical of the kinds of image that are reproduced on cards.

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The aim of the game is to act like an art and design detective and to find out all the clues that tell you what is happening in the picture. Remember that all these images – like all design – started out as a blank canvas, paper (or screen) and that the artist or designer has added every single piece for a reason.

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You will find the questions and image credits below. Have a go and see how good an art detective you are!

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Some of the questions are harder than others so you might need to help smaller children. Don’t worry if you cannot find the “right” answers (who says that there are any?). The point is just to think more investigatively about works of art and design and to figure out how artists and designers go about their craft of communicating visually.

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How can you tell what is happening in the image? Is there a story? How can you find out what it is about?

What do you think you already know or recognise about this kind of image or story and what seems new or unusual to you?

In what way does the composition give you clues to the story or activity in the image? In other words, where has the artist placed the objects, such as people, buildings and trees?

Why do you think the artist did this? Does it help you to understand who is important or who is doing an action? Does your eye follow the composition round the picture?

What kind of place or scene is the image set within? How can you tell this?

What size and scale are objects in the image? Who or what seems near the front and what is further behind?

What can you tell about the people in the image by their costumes? Do they look rich or poor? How can you tell?

Describe how colour is used in the image. Don’t just look at the obvious bits like costumes, but check out backgrounds and more “hidden” parts. If there is no colour how can you tell the difference between parts of the image? What technique has been used?

What kind of lighting does the image have? Can you see where it is coming from? Or is there more than one place from which light comes? How can you tell?

How do you think the image has been made? What medium is it?  Is it a painting, a drawing, a print, a photograph, a sculpture or something else? How can you tell this?

How does the way in which the image has been made make a difference to the way it looks?

How realistic do the people and objects look?

Do you think this style helps you to understand what is happening or not?

What can you tell about the body language or emotions of any people or animals? How does this help you to understand the story or narrative?

What “props” are used in the image? In other words, what objects are held, used or placed to help you understand the scene?

Is there anything else that you noticed about the image?

In what ways do you like or dislike this image?

If you were to make it what would you do differently?

Happy Christmas art gaming!

If you like design and art you may like to see our design and art projects for teens which can be found here.

All images courtesy of NGA Images Open Access.

Image credits:

American 19th century, New England Farm in Winter, 1850, painting

Lorenzo Lotto, Nativity, 1523, painting

After Winslow Homer, Christmas Belles, 1869, wood engraving print

Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Games on the Frozen Ijssel, c1626, drawing

Josiah Johnson Hawes, Boston Common Snow Scene, 1850s, photograph

Giovanni Bernardi, Adoration of the Magi, (no date given), Samuel H. Kress Collection, sculpture