Object Study

Teaching Sustained Investigation

The object study is a teaching idea to generate thinking beyond the obvious. It can be used with students at the start of year 1 as a way of introducing investigation skills and learning to make connections.

The idea that ONE thing can be the object of sustained investigation sets the stage for further development of critical and visual inquiry.

Teacher initiated, but student developed

In this object study you are setting parameters and teaching skills while allowing students to really develop highly personal and meaningful investigations of their own. It should provide the right balance between teacher guidance and independent student work, although less confident students will need more help finding some initial connections.

You can find an expanded version of the object study geared towards students in chapter 1, Start Exploring of my textbook Visual Arts for the IB Diploma as seen on the left.

This activity helps to address Process Portfolio criterion B:

" the work demonstrates critical investigation of artists, artworks and artistic genres, with insightful awareness of how this investigation has impacted the students own art making practice" PP Assessment Criteria

The Activity: One object, many ways of looking.

Begin by Choosing an Object

Choose one thing, preferably something small enough to hold in your hand. This will be your object of study so choose thoughtfully.  It also helps if the object has an interesting shape to draw, and lends itself to multiple meanings

For example

An Egg (smooth, enclosed, beginnings, birth, potential, life, transformation)


Or a light bulb (transparency, reflection, illumination, ideas, science, history, progress)



You get the idea

Often students will choose something like their ipods or phones and although these tend to be less visually interesting to work with, the implications and connotations are rich territory..

  In The Visual Journal

Create at least one page in the visual journal for each point

You might want to start with some warm up drawing exercises just to get going. Try Blind Drawing, Contour drawing, or look at Drawing Objects for fun ways to introduce drawing skills using this object.


1.Draw your object from different viewpoints
(Unusual points of view, distortion, scale,)

2. Place it in different contexts
(Surroundings, composition, context, juxtaposition, colour, format)

3. Use different material approaches (whatever you can find, pencil, earth, photo, words, rubbings, prints, etc) Be very experimental.

4. Explore different possible meanings and symbolism
(Inherent, attributed, invented) This is good for research skills, lateral thinking and generating writing in the journal.

5. Historical and cultural context (link to discussion of cultural context in journal) how has this object evolved in time? Different approaches are possible depending on the object. (Consider design, uses in past, cultural iconography, role in technology) This is largely a page or so of writing.

6. Make connections to other artworks
(What relationship does it have to art history and other artists? How has this been addressed by others? Making references, use visual examples! )

This is only the beginning…but you will have got them thinking independently and making connections and hopefully some interesting visual ideas will have emerged from the process. Along the way introduce students to the vocabulary, techniques and skills that you encounter.

Linking to Studio Work

Developing studio work from this exploration of one object in the journal.

Ok, so they aren’t Brancusi and you don’t have the facilities for marble sculpture in your school, but there are other possibilities! The ground work has been done and the student should have a range of possibilities to choose from for developing a studio piece.


Using the available materials and according to the students’ skill level, an extended drawing, a painting, a print or a piece of 3D work can be produced, or even a video or time based piece. The research in the journal will have generated a sufficient amount of interesting ideas for starting a studio piece.

In this assignment, the student witnesses how in depth critical investigation directly impacts studio work.

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