The following assignments are meant to demonstrate the interdependent relationship between art, culture, and politics.  Students will learn that art can be a tool for artists to present ideas concerning cultural, political, economical, social, and even personal issues.  Students will explore ideas both in theory and practice. I. Critical Analysis On Your Own – Reflection and Description Visual art can be a powerful form of personal expression. To interpret an artist's message, it is helpful to carefully describe the work of art. Using description you can record the facts before you offer an opinion about a work of art. This is where the process of critical analysis begins. Look closely at Jane Ash Poitras' The Contrary and describe what you see. Observe her composition (the arrangement of elements and principles of Read More

The following assignments are meant to demonstrate the interdependent relationship between art, culture, and politics.  Students will learn that art can be a tool for artists to present ideas concerning cultural, political, economical, social, and even personal issues.  Students will explore ideas both in theory and practice.

I. Critical Analysis

On Your Own – Reflection and Description

Visual art can be a powerful form of personal expression. To interpret an artist's message, it is helpful to carefully describe the work of art. Using description you can record the facts before you offer an opinion about a work of art. This is where the process of critical analysis begins.

Look closely at Jane Ash Poitras' The Contrary and describe what you see. Observe her composition (the arrangement of elements and principles of design: colour, line, texture, and shapes). Record what you see by writing your observations in a notebook.

Emphasis is an important principle of design. It is used to create a focal point within a work of art. Choose your focal point and from there let your eye wander across the painting. As you move along consider connections and tensions between elements in the paintings.

In your assessment of the painting, what is the subject matter? What ideas are being represented? What is the artist trying to say through her work? How would you interpret the message/meaning?

In Partners  - Discussion

When you have finished taking notes partner up with a classmate and share your observations. Then consider the following:

1. Did you and your partner choose the same focal point?
2. Did you both choose to record the same facts/details about the painting?
3.  What does your partner think about the work? What is the subject matter in his/her opinion?
4. Did you both arrive at the same conclusion?

On Your Own – Interpretation

Based on your observation and your partner’s notes (which you may choose to include or ignore) describe The Contrary. (Your description should be between 100 and 250 words or as determined by the educator.) A good description can help recreate a picture with words. Your description should include the subject matter, elements and principles of design, and your interpretation of the work.

With the Class – Presentation and Discussion

Share your description with the class. Note the similarities and differences. Together discuss how the process of critical analysis affects your viewing and appreciation of art.

II. Research Paper

Students will be given a research project about Jane Ash Poitras or Canada's First Nations people.

1. Jane Ash Poitras is interested in addressing important social, cultural, historical, and political issues in her art. Her art, thus, functions as a vehicle for presenting her thoughts and concerns.  Study Poitras’ art and report what you have learned about the various ideas and messages that she is presenting through her art.  Then consider the artist’s place in and contribution to Contemporary Canadian art.

2. Choose a different First Nations artist and discuss his/her work and contribution to the development of First Nations Canadian art (history). Some artists to consider:

  • Rebecca Belmore
  • Rita Letendre
  • Shelley Niro
  • Gerald McMaster
  • Carl Beam
  • Bob Boyer
  • Bill Reid
  • Allen Sapp
  • Arthur Shilling 

III. Art-Making Studio

Make your own Collage

Convey your personal thoughts and present your message in your own collage.

1.  To make your own mixed-media collage you will first need to brainstorm on a  topic. Think of an issue – social, historical, racial, cultural, or personal – that you would like to address in your art such as immigration. (If you and your family have immigrated to Canada recount your entire experience or an aspect of your experience from leaving your home-country to your journey, and finally to adjusting to a new life, place, and people. Have you experienced a cultural shock? Have you found a commonality between your past culture and a new way of life?  Do you dress differently? Do you eat different foods?  Did you adapt to your new school environment? What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?)   

2.  Gather photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and other items of value that you can include in the work. You may also use paint and tissue paper or any other object that you can paste onto the surface of your paper or canvas, thus creating a mixed-media collage. Your work may include text, painted images – abstract or realistic – and drawings of people, objects, places, and events.

3.  Your ideas should be represented using whichever style of expression is appropriate in creating a mood (cheerfulness, anger, defiance, protestation). Note that the message is dependant on the form of expression — the technical execution and stylistic approach. For example, darker colours and wild brush strokes or thicker application of paint can denote strong and violent emotions and can set a dark mood – pain, fear, or menace.  Bright colours and colourful patterns can evoke the opposite meaning – light heartedness, celebration, and comedy.

4.  Present you work to the class as an exercise in critical analysis. Discuss the objects that you have used, your usage of paint or text, and what you have included or omitted from the work. Let your classmates voice their opinion about your work. Let them explain what they see. Based on their findings and opinions you can determine if you have failed or succeeded in communicating your message.


© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

Jane Ash Poitras The Contrary Learning Object Activity is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives:

  • Learn about the artist and her contribution to Canadian art;
  • Explore themes in Canadian history and cultural heritage;
  • Establish links between art and cultural identity;
  • Learn about a type of Canadian art - First Nations art, and demonstrate knowledge in the art of other cultures, nations, and groups;
  • Identify, research, and describe visual characteristics and themes found in Canadian and other cultures’ art;
  • Demonstrate an understanding that the function of art may vary from culture to culture;
  • Discuss and analyze a work of art using principles of design and other artistic terminology, and classify a work of art by period, style, and subject matter;
  • Use appropriate art vocabulary related to materials, processes, and technologies;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of materials, basic skills, and concepts in painting;
  • Produce one’s own work of art to express personal ideas and topical influences;
  • Produce one’s own work of art using traditional and new approaches;
  • Learn how to apply the techniques and styles of other artists in the creation of one’s own work of art in order to gain a better understanding of the artistic process and of different creative productions; and
  • Identify the skills required in various visual arts and art-related careers.

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