Need something to talk about in Spanish? Grow your language skills with an engaging art study activity. Observe the artwork of famous Latin American artists, then describe and discuss the details. I share how to study art with activities to speak, listen, read and write in Spanish. Get the free printable worksheet.
So what exactly is art study? It is a thirty minute activity about one artwork. Often done at least weekly, in Spanish, it is also a language learning activity. The artwork provides a visual source for discussion and vocabulary.
Let’s start with a quick glimpse at the description of an artwork.
Art Study Example
First, one artwork is shown for observation of details. During this time, the student recalls vocabulary from memory or learns new words. Discussion questions help with this process.
Here is an example of how an intermediate Spanish learner describes Modesta.
Diego Rivera pintó Modesta en el año 1937. Hay una niña muy seria sentada en una silla de madera con flores. Sus pies no alcanzan el piso. Su cabello es corto. Ella está adentro de casa con piso de madera y paredes grises. Ella mira atrás de mi…
Diego Rivera painted Modesta in the year 1937. There is a very serious girl sitting on a wood chair with flowers. Her feet do not reach the floor. Her hair is short. She is inside a house with a wood floor and gray walls.
It’s that simple. The artwork is a visual source of a story. One that has characters, setting, problems, solutions and a message. The next step is to draw the details from memory. Every step engages thinking and memory for language skills to grow.
All Spanish Language Skill Levels
Maybe you’re thinking – that is way too hard for me. I hardly know any Spanish words. That may be true, yet it is the perfect activity for beginners (and advanced) Spanish learners. Because the discussion starts right where you are. Everyone can do art study with any level of ability.
Each step can be scaled up or down according to your skill level.
A beginner could start with finding a couple of words to describe what is in the picture. In this case, words like niña, silla, madera are directly connected to an image. This can be expanded into creating phrases and sentences as skill level rises.
A solid foundation of vocabulary and beginning grammar concepts is developed.
As you saw in the example, at this level the student uses full sentences. They can try different sentence structures with clauses. The descriptive words match gender and number. Synonyms for words can be exchanged. There is a lot of opportunity for growth.
An advanced student has opportunity to practice using more advanced grammar. The story could include details like what happened or what she wants. These use different verb tenses and moods. They also, could write a full analysis of the artwork in Spanish.
In other words, art study time is adaptable for all Spanish language skill levels.
Overview of Art Study Time
As you can see, artwork provides an excellent visual source for conversation. It is a powerful way to learn how to listen, speak, read and write Spanish brilliantly. Art has many elements to describe and talk about. Which means the vocabulary choice is huge.
In this mural by Boa Mistura, the wide variety of leaf shapes, bright colors, black lines can be described in so many ways. And the principles of repetition and overlapping add to the meaning. Each leaf represents plants from different regions of Latin America. The message is abundance, fruitfulness and unity.
Elements and Principles of Art
Each artwork is composed of many individual elements that combine into a unified piece. The elements have many unique descriptive details. These individual elements are line, shape, form, value, space, color and texture.
Here is a description of each element:
- Line – a point moving through space
- Shape – relates lines and defines space
- Form – relates shape and volume
- Value – lightness or darkness of color
- Space – defines area and depth
- Color – the look of reflected light
- Texture – the look or feel by touch
All these elements have tons of different words to describe the content of the artwork.
The artist masterfully uses the elements together to develop the story and message. The principles are how the elements are organized in the composition. The parts are combined into the whole. They direct the eye around unfolding the message.
Here is a list of the principles with a definition:
- Rhythm – visual beat created by variation in repetition
- Balance – distribution of weight
- Emphasis – interruption of pattern for focus
- Proportion – relative size of parts to whole
- Gradation – series of gradual changes
- Variety – use of different elements for contrast
- Harmony – combining elements for similarity
- Movement – look or feel of action to guide observation.
Without question, describing the visual elements and principles will grow an amazingly rich vocabulary and powerful expression skills. There is a story and message to discover in each artwork and of course, your opinion about it too.
Five Steps of Art Study Time
More than just talk, art study is a time full of engaging activities to maximize thinking and memory of language. The visual picture is put into words. And then from memory the details are recalled.
Then again, more questions and discussion build listening and speaking skills. Finally, this conversation can be turned into something written.
The art study time quickly moves through 5 steps:
- Show and observe the artwork
- Describe the details
- Draw from memory
- Discuss the message
- Write about it
The discussion guide below is a guide with the steps and basic questions for what to talk about for each step.
Preparation of Art and Materials
Before the activity time, there are a few things to prepare in advance. You need to gather the artwork, supplies and learning tools. Each art study time is focused on ONE ARTWORK by one artist. And all together several pieces of the artist will be covered in a rotation.
The most important part of art study is the artist and the artwork. You will need some basic information about the artist and several artworks. The artwork can be printed or displayed electronically.
1. Choose an artist, art movement, genre, time-period or civilization.
I have put together a couple art galleries and biographies for famous Latin American Artists HERE:
These posts include an artwork gallery of famous Latin American artists along with biographical information, interesting facts, and quotes in Spanish and English.
OR Find the information and artwork:
- An art book about the artist or time-period with large pictures of their art
- Search online art galleries. Here are some good ones:
2. Select several artworks.
Once you have selected an artist, gather images of a few of their artworks. These can be displayed electronically on your computer, television, tablet or phone. Another option is to print them for personal use.
I love printing the artwork, because then I can put them on the wall and keep them in a notebook or album afterwards. They are beautiful and simple treasures.
- Print at home on your printer with regular paper (or photo gloss)
- Send edited images to print service – 4X6 print size is good for crisp image.
Just make sure you have a quality image and adjust the image to the correct size.
Either way, keep the artwork out of view until art study time. That way, fresh eyes will make fresh observations. Afterwards, put them on the wall or keep in a folder or notebook.
I am working on a craft to make Art Study Flip Books using the prints.
Keep in touch to get the latest craft and FREE printable, right HERE.
3. Schedule the activity.
The most important thing is to enjoy the artwork and to maximize the use of Spanish to observe, describe and express your thoughts. According to your best practice, choose a rotation that is comfortable and productive.
Art Study Activity Schedule Options
A typical art study rotation consists of six artworks belonging to one artist in six weeks. This means there is one art study time of thirty minutes per week. In one school year, it is possible to study 6 different artists.
- Change quantity of artists or artworks
- Try more or less art study times per week, month or year
- Adjust the amount of time spent on one artist with more or less artworks
- Only have activity during part of the year (example: during winter)
Basically, if you want more add more artwork or additional artists. For a longer study of an artist prepare more artworks to discuss. Bottomline, there is one art study time for each artwork.
Gather Supplies and Learning Tools
Since art study is a very engaging activity, it does require a few basic supplies and learning tools. Each step provides another way to grow each language skill. These are the materials you will want to have available during art study time.
After looking at and describing the artwork, the third step is to draw the details from memory. The purpose is not to imitate the artists techniques, but rather to recall the visual and word connections from memory.
You will need these supplies for drawing:
- half sheets of blank paper
- OR a small sketchbook
- a pencil or pen
- crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolor, tempera, chalk (all optional)
- lined paper (for writing activities)
During the activity, there are some learning activities you may want to include. Most definitely, vocabulary is a big one and so is writing. I have some practical learning tools and ideas to add in.
I list many activities based on learning styles HERE:
Use the Spanish Study Plan printable to make your Spanish language skills goals and study plan.
As you are discovering new words, do a vocabulary exploration with this FREE printable:
Details for how to use them are HERE :
Having everything ready in advance will help keep the focus on growing your language skills. Remember to enjoy the art and the discussion.
Art Study in Spanish | Discussion Guide
So, you’ve got your artwork, supplies, learning tools gathered. You have the time for this thirty minute activity. And you have information about the artist and maybe a art vocabulary list ready. Great job preparing!
Now, let’s go step by step through each part of the art study time. My aim is to make this simple, so you can focus on growing your vocabulary, and listening and speaking skills. For discussion, I give some basic questions and potential answers, as a starting point. Feel free to add more and expand on the content.
The art study activity progresses through five steps. The art study time is focused on ONE ARTWORK for the entire 30 minutes. So, the information for one artist and one artwork is observed and discussed.
Summary of the Five Steps
Step 1 – Introduce
Step 2 – Observe
Step 3 – Draw
Step 4 – Talk
Step 5 – Write
Within this time, the time is spent looking at the artwork, describing details, drawing from memory, discussing the meaning and writing it down. No matter what your language skill level is, it is easily scaled to your ability.
For each step, I list several questions and some vocabulary. These are basics to give you an idea of what to talk about. Ask different questions that you prefer. And tailor them to your level as necessary.
Step 1 – Show and Tell
Length | 5 minutes
On the very first session, introduce basic background information about the artist and the artwork. Include facts about their life, the historical events, art movements and their individual style. For each artwork, give a brief introduction with details about the materials and what makes it unique.
The title is …. and the date created was…. (a specific year or time- period).
- El título es … y la fecha de creación fue … (año)
It was made by …. (artist’s name) in… (place)
- Fue hecho por … (nombre del artista) de … (lugar)
It is a (type of art)…
- Es un/una (forma artística visual)…
—sculpture, drawing, painting, sketch, mural, photograph, illustration, ceramic, carving, weaving, architecture, craft
—escultura, dibujo, pintura, esbozo, mural, fotografía, ilustración, cerámica, talla, tejido, arquitectura, artesanía
It’s made of or on (materials)…
- Está hecho de o sobre (materiales)…
—oil (on wood or canvas), acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, pastels, ink, clay, wood, plastic, marble, stone, granite, iron, steel, copper, bronze, gold, limestone, mixed media
—óleo (sobre madera o tela), acrílico, acuarela, carboncillo, pasteles, tinta, arcilla, madera, plástico, mármol, piedra, granito, hierro, acero, cobre, bronce, oro, caliza, medio mixto
Step 2 – Observe Artwork Details
Length | 5 minutes
Second, describe all the visual details. Tell about what is shown in the artwork. In landscapes, portraits, still life pictures there are objects and people. Often many events and action are happening in a setting.
Another way of describing artwork is by telling about the types of art elements. The unique qualities of line, shape, form, value, space color and texture are full of rich vocabulary. See the explanation of the elements and principles above. And get an art vocabulary list.
At this point, this is a listening and speaking activity. If you want to add writing, make a written list of details. Or, do word exploration activities with new vocabulary.
Questions to Describe Artwork
What to you see? I see… There is…
- ¿Qué es lo que tú ves? Yo veo… Hay…
What do I see? I see… There is…
¿Qué es lo que veo? Yo veo… Hay…
What is where? (Object or person) is…
- ¿Qué está dónde? (Objeto o persona) está…
— in the foreground, background, middle, center, top, bottom… on the left, right…between, above, below, inside, outside…
— en primer plano, fondo, centro, centro, arriba, abajo … a la izquierda, a la derecha … entre, arriba, abajo, dentro, fuera …
Questions to Describe Action
Who is doing what? (answer in present continuous)
- ¿Quién está haciendo qué? (contesta en presente continuo.
-The (person) is doing [present continuous verb]…
-El/La (persona) está haciendo [verbo en presente continuo]
What is being said about the subject?
- ¿Qué se está diciendo sobre el tema?
Questions to Explore Art Elements
What element do you see? … I see…
- ¿Cuál elemento ves…? Veo…
— line, shape, form, value, space, color, texture
—la linea, el forma, el volumen, el valor, el espacio, el color, la textura
What colors do you see? The colors are…
- ¿Cuáles colores ves? Los colores son…
Which shapes are visible? The shapes are…
- ¿ Cuáles formas son visibles? Los formas visibles son…
How do you see volume? I see volume…
- ¿Cómo ves volumen? Veo volumen…
What contrast do you see? The contrast is…
- ¿Cuáles contrastes ves? Veo contraste…
How can you see space? I see space…
- ¿Cómo ves espacio? Veo espacio…
What does it feel like (touch)? It feels…
- ¿Cómo se siente? Se siente…
There are many benefits. The new vocabulary is connected to a image from the artwork. Listening and speaking skills are sharpened by describing the story and art elements. New language thinking pathways are developed by engaging with the artwork in Spanish.
Step 3 – Draw Your Observations
Length | 5 minutes
Third, it’s time to draw the details from memory. To start this step, put away the artwork, so you can’t see the picture while drawing. Your materials can be basic paper and pencil or colorful with pens, paints, chalk, watercolors or colored pencils. Make sure to include the most details possible.
For little ones, use a small paper, so it’s easy to fill. And use a five minute timer. Pencils down when the time is up. Count the amount of details they remembered. For their personal best, the highest number wins.
The purpose is to recall the Spanish vocabulary with the visual details. Thinking about and drawing the words combine together to create a strong language memory.
Step 4 – Think About the Message
Length | 5 minutes
Fourth, this time with the artwork in view again, a second discussion about the whole artwork reveals the message. The principles of art – rhythm, balance, emphasis, proportion, gradation, variety, harmony and movement unite the individual elements. See the section about art principles for details.
- rhythm – el ritmo
- balance – el equilibrio
- emphasis – el enfasis
- proportion – la proporción
- gradation – la gradación
- variety – la variedad
- harmony – la armonía
- movement – el movimiento
The purpose is to think in Spanish. Further use of language grows more listening and speaking skills. I list some topics to think about and questions to guide discussion. Again, feel free to ask other questions, especially for your best language use.
Explain how each element is used together to form a whole.
How do the elements work together? For what purpose? Are the elements effective? How does the viewer’s eye move around the space?
- ¿Qué efecto tienen los elementos? ¿Con qué propósito? ¿Cómo se mueve el ojo del espectador por el espacio?
Tell the story of the artwork and the artist’s message.
What am I witnessing? How do I feel about that? What is the most important? What is the focal point? Why did the artist create this piece?
- ¿Qué estoy presenciando? ¿Cómo me siento al respecto?¿Qué es lo más importante?¿Cuál es el punto focal? ¿Por qué el artista creó esta pieza?
_____________ is a symbol of … ______________es un simbolo de…
It makes me think of… Me hace pensar de…
I feel… Me siento…
Reveal your perspective on the artwork and it’s message.
Do I like this artwork, why or why not? What did the artist do best? What would you change?
- ¿Me gusta esta obra, porque sí o no? ¿Qué hizo el artista mejor? ¿Qué cambiarías?
- ¿Me gusta esta obra, porque sí o no? ¿Qué hizo el artista mejor? ¿Qué cambiarías?
I like/don’t like the artwork because… Me gusta/no me gusta la obra porque…
I think… Pienso que…
The artwork makes me feel… I feel… La obra me hace sentir… Me siento…
There are a lot of options of topics to talk about. Focus on the most relevant or interesting question. Remember to keep it engaging and basic. That way you won’t get overwhelmed.
Step 5 – Write
Length | 5 minutes
Last, write what you thought or discussed about the artwork in writing. It could be a word, phrase, sentence or a complete art analysis. Put your writing together with your drawing from step three and the pictures of the artworks in a notebook.
This artwork is… Esta obra es… Este arte es…
For beginners to advanced learners, word exploration sheets are perfect for this final step. From drawing pictures to writing sample sentences and word definitions in Spanish, they are helpful to solidify comprehension.
Artist Final Day
After you have completed all the artworks, wrap it up with an artwork roundup. Gather all the artwork together for that ONE ARTIST (or movement, style, civilization), even the extras. Do one of these fun activities:
- Compare and contrast. Comparar y contrastar
- Organize them in time order. Organízalas en orden de tiempo
- Group them by color, subject, type, material, etc… Agrúpalas según color, tema, tipo, material, etc…
As a result, you will see how the artist’s work evolved over the years. It’s fascinating.
Afterwards, you can collect all your favorites into a photo album or a binder. It can be a family or personal treasure. The words will stay with you too, in your memory, stronger each time you recall them.
Final Thoughts About Art Study
To sum it up, each art study time is a purposeful and engaging Spanish language learning activity. With a little planning and preparation, the artists life and work provide great material to discuss. Each step involves choosing words to complete thoughts to describe visual elements.
Each time you will –
- Learn new Spanish vocabulary
- Discover new ways to express yourself in Spanish
- Enjoy famous artists and their artwork
- Observe details of one piece of art
- Recall details and sketch them yourself
- Have a quick discussion of elements and principles of art specific to artwork
- Make a conclusion and opinion about the art
- Grow your listening, speaking and writing skills in just thirty minutes.
The discussion guide above walks you through the steps. And it gives sample vocabulary and dialogue to use. You will use Spanish in your real life with art study time activities. Engagement of senses with thinking in Spanish creates a solid memory of the language.
And you will have a beautiful lasting treasure – favorite artwork and Spanish language skills.
I will help make your art study preparation easier –