Using Art21 Media in the Classroom


Strategies for introducing film and online resources

Art21 provides a range of multimedia resources, including films, images, and texts such as transcripts, essays, and discussion questions. These materials are designed to encourage critical and creative thinking, independent research, and interdisciplinary connections. Using a range of media in the classroom encourages learners to analyze and articulate ideas in diverse ways. Successful use of these resources supports a deeper engagement with the materials and promotes dialogue. The following suggestions are designed to enhance the use of films, online resources, and print materials in the classroom. We also encourage educators to offer students a diverse collection of media types—to introduce a theme, question, or idea from a range of perspectives and sources.


The following suggestions are opportunities to utilize video, visual images, and text to connect student ideas about art to personal and community-based learning experiences.

  1. Encourage students to write regularly in a journal or sketchbook to record questions, ideas, or pictures related to their art-viewing experiences. Use any of the Before Viewing, During Viewing, or After Viewing questions (found in the Educators Guides) as journal assignments to be completed in anticipation of a group discussion.
  2. Facilitate a brainstorming activity that asks small groups of students to articulate preconceptions and questions about contemporary art. Have each group illustrate these ideas in the form of a diagram or chart. What are the similarities and differences in the shared preconceptions?
  3. Distribute copies of artist biographies, interviews, and images of artworks. Have students compare and contrast artists according to particular themes, questions, or ideas.
  4. Initiate a debate, based on any discussion questions in the "Starting the Conversation" section. Turn the question into a statement and have students develop written, oral, and/or visual arguments for and against that statement, to present to the class. Use diverse visual examples to prompt new thinking.
  5. Use videos, interview transcripts, and slideshows to prepare students for viewing art in museums, galleries, and other exhibition venues. Discuss the different ways audiences can see and experience contemporary art (such as on film, on the Internet, in person), as well as how different contexts (time-based, site-specific, ephemeral, interactive) influence the way we look at and interpret art.
  6. View a range of artist segments or use Art21 texts to inspire students to write their own artist statements or to create video segments that reflect their own profiles as artists.
  7. Use Art21 as a springboard to connect with your local arts community. Invite a local artist, curator, collector, or educator to discuss particular artists, issues, or concepts relevant to your students or local community.
  8. Use videos and images as prompts for writing. Develop regular opportunities for students to reflect on and articulate what they are seeing and how they think about different forms of art, using freewriting exercises, concept maps, short stories, and poetry.

Utilizing Films

Engaging students with the ideas, imagery, and stories presented in film requires specific strategies and preparation to introduce and screen it in the classroom. (We've all experienced watching a film as an unplanned or substitute activity.) Art21 films should facilitate active engagement with students, and allow them to explore ideas and questions raised by the artists and their artworks. These ideas can introduce a curricular theme or essential question, or facilitate a significant discussion, as part of the process of creating works of art that reflect substantive thinking. Art21 films provide a way to connect the artistic process with curricular themes and goals but leave space for students' ideas and experiences.


  1. Preview all film content
    Decide which portions are appropriate and relevant to the lesson, unit and/or maturity of the audience. Consider viewing a single artist profile or specific portions of different artist profiles to address specific goals and objectives. What will best serve the curriculum and engage learners?
  2. Focus in
    Screen films in short segments, selecting specific moments, ideas, or artworks that you would like to focus on. Art21 Exclusive videos (on are 3–5 minute films focused on a question or kernel of an idea. As short films, Art21 Exclusive videos are dynamic and nimble resources that, with specific introduction and framing, can be used in a variety of classroom contexts and subjects. Art in the Twenty-First Century segments are 12–15 minutes in length but can also be broken down into smaller sections, much like Art21 Exclusive videos, to focus on a particular theme or topic, quote, artwork or exhibition context. The DVD version includes three chapters within each artist segment.
  3. Prepare the audience
    Initiate a discussion or writing exercise, using the Before Viewing questions found in the Educators Guides and on each artist's page in the Artists section of this site. These questions are designed to help viewers anticipate content in the segment(s) and to solicit personal experiences and opinions with respect to a particular topic or idea.
  4. Encourage active viewing
    Identify appropriate points for pausing, clarifying, or expanding on what viewers are seeing and hearing. Focus on particular images, quotes, or ideas to help facilitate understanding. Use the While Viewing questions found in the Educators Guides and on each artist's page in the Artists section of this site, or revisit the Before Viewing questions or ideas when relevant. Encourage participants to take notes, sketch, or consider specific questions while they watch the film(s).
  5. Identify vocabulary words
    Use the Art21 Glossary on to discuss and clarify relevant terms.
  6. Introduce additional reference materials
    These can include copies of artist interviews, images of specific works of art, or lesson ideas and topics. These resources can introduce specific ideas or themes addressed in the video segment and can support pre- or post-viewing discussion.
  7. Follow-up and facilitate after viewing discussion
    Analyze and respond to the video segment with suggested questions from the Educators Guides or related lessons. Consider ways for participants to develop their ideas independently, either by writing or drawing, before sharing them with the group. Using discussion and activity suggestions, ask participants to reflect on what they have seen, about how artists process ideas and create artworks.
  8. Use episodic themes to initiate conversation
    Use episodic themes to initiate conversation about a selection of artists and their works. Compare and contrast artists, working methods, or interpretations of specific themes or topics.
  9. Select a variety of films
    Choose from the diverse Art21 artist films, other documentary films, and mainstream movies both past and present. Compare and contrast how each film approaches its subject matter and conveys a narrative about the artist and his/her work and ideas.
  10. The Teaching with Contemporary Art column on the Art21 Blog also has some strategies for screening video in the classroom.


Utilizing the Web

In addition to video, consider introducing a wide range of visual and text-based sources to support student ideas and ways of making art. The Art21 website can serve as an archive of resources to apply to particular curricular goals or thematic ideas. By providing access to many artists' voices and artworks, you can present a diversity of perspectives and show complementary as well as distinct or divergent opinions or artistic practices. Ultimately, these resources can help students to develop their own opinions, ideas, and working methods.


  1. Engage in focused research
    Explore specific artists, ideas, artistic media, and themes to develop a lesson or unit of study. Also suggest additional artists, ideas, artistic media, or lessons to students to explore individually on the Art21 website, to further support their learning.
  2. Use Web-based video clips
    These can orient audiences to a video segment that they will watch together. Encourage them to collect questions they have about the artist and his/her work, to address during a screening of the complete segment.
  3. Use artist interviews
    These focus on particular projects or ideas that the artists explore in their work. Inform group discussion and encourage individual research, using quotes from the interviews. Consider printing out an artist interview for students to read and discuss, as a complement to exploring in greater detail the ideas and process behind creating a work of art.
  4. Web-based slideshows and images
    Artworks are organized by categories, including artist, medium, and theme. Present a single image, two images to compare/contrast, or a complete slideshow, to discuss the ideas addressed by a particular artist before or after watching their segment. You can also use these images to consider how artists approach the art making process and use a wide variety of visual media.
  5. Create maps or playlists of resources
    Follow the development of a theme or an idea throughout the Art21 website. Include links to each specific Art21 resource—whether video, image, slideshow, interview, or blog post. Think about how to introduce the theme and establish a sequence for the collection of resources in order to build upon that theme. After arriving at a final sequence of resources, develop a way to segue between each resource that provides a clear transition as well as a connection to the theme. Writing transition statements can help to narrate the way the theme develops or changes.

    Introduce the theme to peers and/or students and propose that they assemble their own map or playlist. Compare and contrast individual maps, to see how students think differently when a specific question or topic is posed.


Utilizing Print Resources

Downloadable Art21 resources complement the use of video and online content. Educators Guides, transcripts of artist talks and interviews, and other printed materials can be used for curriculum planning, as well as to assist students in their own research and reflection.


  1. Start with the Educators Guides
    These can assist preliminary research and curriculum planning. Utilize artist biographies along with discussion prompts, to consider how to introduce a particular artist or thematic idea to students.
  2. Create photocopies
    The Guides' artist information, lesson plans, or interview transcripts can help you develop your own thinking about curricular connections and strategies for introducing content to students. Use photocopies of the artist and theme pages from the Educators Guides to support individual reflection and group discussion. Have students read information about the artist to consider their impressions of the artist and what their work might look like, before introducing the work itself or the video.
  3. Encourage independent writing
    Support reflection about a work of art, a video segment, or a thematic idea. Throughout the Educators Guides, there are suggestions about how to incorporate reflective writing.