Starting the Conversation


Before focusing on a particular question, it may help to begin with a general brainstorm about art being made today, to find out what ideas your students already have. Try to solicit as many different adjectives, ideas, questions, or prejudices as you can, to get a sense of what your students already know, and topics or misconceptions that might be useful to explore further.

Use the following questions and activities as a way to initiate a broad-based dialogue about contemporary art and specific ideas related to where art is seen, how it is made, and who makes it.

  • Why is art important? What role does art play in our society? What value is placed upon artists and their art, and why?
  • What makes something a work of art? Is art defined by particular boundaries? If so, what are they and how have they changed over the course of history?
  • What is the role of the artist? How has this role changed over time?
  • What distinguishes visual art from other forms of visual communication like advertising, design, or photojournalism?
  • Who decides what a work of art means—the artist, the critic, the viewer? How do history and the passage of time affect the meaning of an artwork?
  • What are the most important skills an artist can have?
  • What materials and tools do artists use to create art today? Have the tools changed over time?
  • Where do artists find inspiration?
  • What is the difference between working alone and collaborating on an artwork with fabricators, audiences, or others?
  • In addition to museums and galleries, where else can art be shown? How does the location or context of a work of art affect its meaning?
  • What are the subjects, issues, and themes important to artists working today?
  • What role does beauty play in contemporary art? Does a work of art need to be beautiful? Why, or why not? Who decides what is beautiful?


Films to get you started: