Metaphor, creativity Metaphors facilitate the capturing of our
phenomenological experience of the world in a unique
way. They provide a means by which we can connect
and art practice
together objects, events and actions that appear to be
empirically disparate and unconnected and are part of
The following article discusses a way of looking at and
thinking about artworks which might be useful for
The following activities suggest strategies for developing
students in Year 11, particularly for those students who
creative practice in the classroom, based on metaphoric
are not familiar with the language of art and the practice
language. These activities can be employed to generate
of art writing.
creative thinking in relation to artmaking and art critical
practice in Year 11 visual arts.
The strategy involves expanding modes of thinking
through using metaphor, which in turn, provides
Art historical and artmaking investigations
students with language for writing and artmaking.
Broken Column, by Frida Kahlo is an artwork abound
References are made to activities involving students and
with symbolism. Students referred to this to gain an
teachers in workshops using metaphor as the means of
insight into representation of self and the use of
Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase
They were asked to list as many signs and symbols in the
is applied to something to which it is not literally
artwork they could identify and decide on the metaphoric
applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance, as A mighty
fortress is our God. (The Macquarie Dictionary, third
A metaphor is using one thing to describe another, but
• brace, as representative of constriction and support
it must be not alike in reality, there is a certain poetic
• long, loose hair and revealed breasts as
effect in using a metaphor. In artworks, symbols are often
representations of freedom and sexuality
used as visual metaphors, where an object or form refers
to and stands for something quite different.
• monobrow, a feminist comment on conventions of
Art critical writing in the Stage 6 visual arts syllabus can
• barren and rocky earth as representation of infertility
be difficult for students who have English as a second
• Ionic column as symbol of vertebrae and stalwartness
language or who have problems with interpretive writing.
• drapery as a reference to nudity, a partial disclosure.
Interpretation of artworks partially depends on
students being able to use their imagination and to
The students discovered that metaphors in art are
think creatively. The use of metaphor in critical
subjective, personal and cultural.
writing can provide a platform for imaginative
The fact that metaphors are culturally relative
response to artworks and generate expressive writing
implies that members of the same culture may share
many distinct metaphorical understandings in
Metaphor and creativity
Creativity is not dependent on students inventing totally
In response to the art historical activity students
unique and individual projects. Rather, it is more about
proceeded to create self-portraits. They made a list of
working within given parameters, where students are
subjective metaphors about themselves and the way they
able to regard the same or similar situations differently.
deal with the world and particular people in it. They used
The differences may be small or substantial, but they go
these as sources for artistic imagery.
beyond the expected, the ordinary, the cliché and the
I feel tied to my sister.
In art education, students are taught to go beyond their
conventional thinking and represent the world in new
My brother makes my blood boil.
Teachers get on my nerves.
My parents dump on me.
Metaphor colours our language and enriches our visual
I am an over-the-top person.
representations. Metaphor used as a device can create
relationships between things in the world and foster
I keep my cards close to my chest.
creativity in artmaking.
I wear my heart on my sleeve.
I am torn away from the computer.
The group then worked in pairs. One of the pair was given
I would be lost without sport.
an image of an artwork, in this case, Willem de Kooning’s
I put a wall up.
Woman 1 1952–6. The teacher with the image wrote a
paragraph about a small section of the image, while not
Students developed self-portrait images from these
revealing it to the other participant, aiming to use
metaphors, which were personal and relevant.
colourful and metaphoric language to suggest either the
subject or the use of the media. This was given to the
other teacher to read. The second teacher then created a
Language, imagery and art criticism
small artwork representing the described part of the de
Description and interpretation in art criticism can
enhance a viewers’ perception of an artwork. Descriptive
writing in a critique of an exhibition, can whet the
Below is a selection of the descriptions and resulting
appetite. In Criticizing Art Terry Barrett writes:
artworks, which were created in crayon, pencil and
Describing is a kind of verbal pointing a critic does
so that features of a work of art will be noticed and
appreciated... description is not a prelude to
Descriptions of sections of De Kooning’s Woman 1:
criticism—it is criticism.1
• The thick primary colour is scraped on with a
frenzy that suggests an urgency or great anger.
He goes on to define the role of the critic:
Tentatively peeking through is a submissive pastel
Critics write to be read, and they must capture their
that is totally overwhelmed by the imposing
readers’ attention and engage their readers’
dominant. The shape suggests a bizarre, squashed
balloon that is slowly leaking out of one end. The
final gesture is a haphazard scraping of black to
Barrett is confirming the relationship between creative
imitate an outline.
language and its influence on the imagination.
• Grotesque face with tribal, triangular eyes staring,
Metaphoric language creates imagery for readers.
left pointing staring out from an equally inverted
We understand experience metaphorically when we
use a Gestalt from one domain of experience to
• The image codifies woman as sexual predator and
structure experience in another domain.2
primitive huntress. Rather than examine the
quality of feminine identity the artist utilises the
Strategies for developing art critical
gestural, macho, mark-making to depict his own
primitive, archetypal image of woman.
In the following activities, teachers developed strategies
for enhancing their own art critical writing. These
• A savage, angry female figure dressed in armour.
strategies can be adapted for Year 11 visual arts students
• The grim reaper smile snarls as it pushes forward
to develop their understanding of art critical practice.
from the sickly, palid skin.
The teachers were read an excerpt of art criticism, written
The results demonstrate the range of interpretations of
by the critic Ken Johnson, and asked to identify the artist
De Kooning’s Woman 1. Several responses combined
referred to in the writing.
description with interpretation and elements of
…large fields of scorched earth (that) look like slabs
judgement. Metaphoric writing provided a variety of
of blasted heath itself, danced over by devils, driven
insights into the artwork. The combined results curiously
over by panzers, tortured by the weather then
suggest De Kooning’s artwork.
screwed to the wall.
This activity can be adapted for use in the classroom.
The artist referred to was Anselm Kiefer.
The range of responses can alert students to the fact that
art critics employ creative writing to provide insight into
artworks. However, students need to support their
• how metaphor and descriptive language can be used
interpretive writing about artworks with art historical
to represent the images in artworks and the use of
information that gives meaning to the interpretive
media and techniques
response. This creative writing task needs to be followed
up by research of the artworks of De Kooning in a
• how descriptive art critical writing can conjure up
historical context of time and place.
imagery for audiences
• how metaphoric writing can be a stimulus for
In a second activity, still using De Kooning’s Woman 1,
participants were given another strategy for developing
• how descriptive writing can comprise elements of
creative art critical writing. A different group of teachers
interpretation and judgement.
was asked to select a particular colour in a section of the
artwork. They were then required to role play that colour
into submission. I become a bra strap, a rouge
pigment and describe in writing their journey from the
roughly smudged onto a gaudy face, a tart, a
bottle or paint tube to the surface of the canvas. It was
mothers’ womb and a tinted pink pair of socks. I
stipulated that they use first person and present tense.
feel used like my subject.
This facilitated a recount of the experiential process. This
information can then be converted to third person.
The results reveal rich and colourful language that refers
to both the painted image and the process of application
Some examples of these descriptions.
of paint. This activity can help students to discuss
Descriptions of “Being The Pigment” for Woman 1
artmaking process and can elicit language that they
I am grabbed, squashed, thrust out aggressively—
otherwise would not use.
splashed, dripped, pushed around, scratched
back. Outlined, covered and remarked with white.
The strategies and activities described in this article
I emerge from beneath, glowing through thin
employ metaphor as a new way of representing the world,
layers as a beacon of luminous lush, burning light.
stimulating creative writing. The aim is to increase
My life was safe, nice, safely contained within a
interest in art critical writing and to help students to
glass jar. I could see and enjoy life. I could watch
appreciate the power of descriptive art critical writing
creation and think about concepts. My colour
and its potential to generate images.
kept me warm and sensuous—the lid is off—the
palette knife descends. Pain—anguish. I’m
I would like to thank those teachers who participated in
splattered over a surface, scrubbed, pushed,
the activities and provided their work samples for use in
rubbed out. I feel thin, less than myself. Now I’m
being overlayed—red and black are added to me.
Visual Arts Consultant
Isolated, but part of something new.
Professional Support and Curriculum
I am the red oil paint squeezed from the tube. I
have been tinted, scrambled, scrubbed and
1. Barrett T., (1994) Criticizing Art Understanding the
dragged, sometimes unwillingly and other times
Contemporary, Mayfield, Mountain View, California.
with an abandon, that just pushed other colours
2. Tilly. C (1999) Metaphor and Material Culture, Blackwell.