Looking with your . . .

Looking with your . . .

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Slide 1: Slide
Art and designLower Secondary (Key Stage 3)Upper Secondary (Key Stage 4)

This lesson contains 15 slides, with text slides.

time-iconLesson duration is: 20 min


By examining several paintings by Vincent van Gogh, the students will learn that you can 'look with your ears'. Students can complete this lesson independently.


General learning objectives
- Students will learn about Vincent van Gogh and his work.
- Students can compare a number of paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
- Student will compare their own work to Vincent van Gogh's.
- Students will learn how well they can observe with their ears.

Materials required
- Computer, iPad, or smartphone with sound
- Sketching paper and pencil

Optional variations
- The assignment can be extended by having the students paint instead of draw.

Items in this lesson

Looking with your . . .

Slide 1 - Slide

These days you can find Vincent van Gogh's work all over the place. Not only in museums, but also on T-shirts, phone cases, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. But Vincent never attracted that kind of attention during his lifetime.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Sunflowers
Date  January 1889
Place Arles, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 2 - Slide

In fact, he only sold a few paintings. Looking at his work is like looking through his eyes. That's because he looked closely at the world around him and captured it in his art.

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title View from Theo's Apartment
Date  March - April 1887
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
For example, Vincent painted this view from his brother Theo's apartment in Rue Lepic, a street in Paris. The brothers lived their together for a while.

Slide 3 - Slide

While painting, Vincent not only saw the world around him but also heard, felt, and smelled it. We can't see those other sensory experiences in his finished art works. Although . . .

This painting is called The Painter on the Road to Tarascon. Vincent painted it in 1888. In the Second World War, it was destroyed in an bombing raid.

Slide 4 - Slide

. . . if you look very closely, you sometimes discover traces of the places where Vincent worked.

Slide 5 - Slide

Consider this sea view, for instance. Vincent painted it during a 'nasty little storm' – and that wasn't easy. Imagine trying to paint while your hair blows into your eyes and your canvas is about to fly off your easel.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title View of the Sea at Scheveningen
Date  August 1882
Place The Hague
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 6 - Slide

So Vincent had to work fast. For the white crests of the waves, he squeezed the paint straight out of the tube onto the canvas. Still, the storm left its mark on the painting . . . How do you think we can see that this was painted in a storm?
While Vincent painted, the wind blew so hard that grains of sand got into the paint. You can still see them there through a microscope.

Slide 7 - Slide

Scheveningen wasn't the only place where sand got into Vincent's work. The same thing happened six years later in the south of France.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Date  June 1888
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 8 - Slide

In this detail view, you can clearly see the grains of sand in the paint.

Slide 9 - Slide

Two seascapes with sand, both painted by Vincent. You might say they look quite similar. Yet there are more differences than similarities.

Slide 10 - Slide

Describe at least five differences between these seascapes.
If you don't know where to begin, think about aspects like the use of colour, the composition, the place where the painting was made, Vincent's style of painting, and the quality of the light.

Slide 11 - Slide

Vincent not only saw two different scenes in front of him; he also heard different noises. Listen to the two sound clips. Which sounds are related to which painting? Why? 

Clip 2
Clip 1

Slide 12 - Slide

Now try it the other way around:

- Listen to clip 3 and make a sketch based on what you hear.
- Too easy? Then try sketching in Vincent's style, with dots and dashes.

Clip 3
Are you not sure what to listen for? Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Close your eyes, so that you can pay full attention to what you hear.
- Write down every sound you recognise.
- Think about what location goes with those sounds. The city? The beach? The countryside? Or somewhere else?
- Also think about the season in which those sounds are made.

Slide 13 - Slide

Go on to the next slide to see Vincent's painting.

Slide 14 - Slide

Here it is: The Harvest. Are there similarities between your art work and Vincent's? And what do you think: is it really possible to look with your ears?
This painting is called The Harvest. Vincent painted it in the southern French city of Arles in June 1888.

Slide 15 - Slide