Interpreting Art in Imagination, Interpretation, and Movement

Lesson 6: Interpreting Art in Imagination, Interpretation, and Movement


Lesson Objective:

Students will demonstrate their ability to interpret a work of art and respond to it by beginning rehearsals for a movement based performance based on a theme derived from a painting.



TH:Cn10.1.I – Investigate how cultural perspectives, community ideas, and personal beliefs impact a drama/theatre work.

TH:Re8.1.I.c.Justify personal aesthetics, preferences, and beliefs through participation in and observation of a drama/theatre work.



  • Swans Reflecting Elephants by Salvador Dali
  • Whiteboard and markers
  • Assignment Description/Rubric



Display Dali’s painting. Ask students to take 1-2 minutes individually to look closely at the artwork. What do they notice? After two minutes, invite them to turn to a nearby classmate and talk about their observations.


After paired discussions, begin a whole class discussion about the painting:

  • What parts of this painting stand out to you?
    • The swans are reflecting elephants
    • There is a man in the background facing away from the animals
    • There is an unidentifiable creature in the bottom corner
  • What do you notice about the use of color in the painting?
    • Vivid shades of orange, blue, and green
    • Dull shades of brown and gray
  • What is interesting about shapes and lines in the painting?
    • Rough cliffs v. still lake
    • Curved lines in necks, trunks, trees, clouds, and lake’s edge
    • Straight lines in trees, man’s back, elephants’ legs, and cliff tops
  • Where is the focus in this painting? What draws your eye to the focus?
    • Border between the cliffs and lake frames the swans and elephants


Step 2:

Now we’re going to use our observations to make interpretations about the painting. Rather than just talking about what we see in the painting, we’re going to interpret what the painting symbolizes or represents.

  • What do you think the swans and elephants represent?
    • Wisdom
    • Beauty
    • Strength
  • What do you think the man or the creature symbolize?
    • Disagreeing with the reflection of wisdom in beauty
    • Trying to fit in
    • Dishonesty
  • What might be the meaning of this painting?


Have the students make a list on the board of one word themes like “fear, beauty, justice, hard work”, etc. After the list is written, have students turn to a partner and share what they think the painter is trying to say about each of these themes. What do we learn about fear? What do we learn about beauty?


Have students share these thoughts or “life lessons.” Examples they may need to hear as they think about this are:

  • Rejection can hurt people
  • Your reflection isn’t the most important thing
  • Things are not always as they seem
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover
  • Life is full of mysteries
  • Life is always changing


Step 3:

Have students divide into groups of three for their final performances. Ask the students, “From this list of themes, which interests you the most?” As a group, come to a consensus on which of the themes to explore further. Now that we have talked about different perspectives around a work of art, let’s see how differing perspectives contribute to making theatre.


Step 4: Introduce final project. Hand out assignment description and rubric. Students will get into their final groups and create an outline for their final performance. This outline can be in the form of a bulleted list that follows the sequence of events. For each moment or event in the scene, students must list which of the three facets of movement they are using for that specific moment. It needs to be specific.

Example: Jane enters with a blowtorch and attacks the people at the park.

                                    -Jane interacts with an imaginary object (blowtorch)

                                    -People at park interact with imaginary fire and show emotion (fear) with                                         their bodies.


Step 5: Have students create their outline and rehearse their performance piece.


Step 6: Have students turn in (or at least check off) their outline for full credit.