In order to understand the clues in art and ultimately to use them, students will be taught the language of symbolism. Begin with stock symbols of love, hate, fidelity, strength, trust, and anything else found in the paintings you will use. This is a crucial base for learners. For example, dogs symbolize faithfulness, a powerful gaze symbolizes strength, hands clasped together symbolize trust, a tool symbolizes work, and so on. Allow students to identify these in the images.
Next, move to subtleties of symbols. For example, the color red can symbolize both romantic passion and intense hate. In the Millais image,
L'Enfant du Regiment
, the color light stone effigy of the soldier is important because it is juxtaposed against the darker jacket and the rosiness of the child's cheeks. It is meant to contrast the tenderness of the living with the finality of death. On the other hand, the light hair of the child in
The Sinews of Old England
draws attention to the youth and innocence of that child. The lightness of the stone effigy does not call attention to the soldier's innocence. In these ways, the same symbolic color, white, serves to tell two different stories. Students must know the difference context makes. For instance, if a flower symbolizes wealth and prosperity, what does a withering flower symbolize? If a happy, jumping dog symbolizes fidelity, what does a sad dog with its tail between its legs symbolize? Use historical and contemporary images to teach these subtleties.
For all levels of learners, a running list of symbols and where they were found is helpful. Additionally, constantly referring to new knowledge reinforces this learning. If many of your students are visual learners, as most boys are, lists of symbols and accompanying images can be hung around the room with a corresponding list in student notebooks or binders. For example, create a sheet just for colors. Create a Red Web with the color in the middle and its various meanings radiating out from it. Be sure to include the sources of each meaning. If you find red to symbolize "Blood, Pain" in
L'Enfant du Regiment
, include this on the poster.
Symbols can be a difficult concept for many students, but they reach many male students at a crucial strength: visual learning. Ultimately, students will be able to manipulate symbols in their Portraits of Pride.