Lessons in Perspective (Art, Empathy, Math, Literature)

Image constructed using multiple vanishing points.

Image constructed using multiple vanishing points. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attached Blackline Masters:  I have made a number of blackline masters to go with this.  Since they are on Word, you can change them to work for you and your class.  I love the overhead projector and prepared work, as my drawing skills are weak.  It also means that I can teach facing the class and focus on them and the lesson.

This is a unit that can be used for almost any grade and level, so long as you adapt it.  I had intended it for a grade eight gifted class (with adaptations to fit with the class and the curriculum) but never got the chance to present it.  It would also work, properly adapted, with grade four or five classes or some high school classes.  The thing that looks like a cog is supposed to be a light source.

A cube and its perspective projection

A cube and its perspective projection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Lesson One:  How four identical circles can look different.

The lesson starts with these circles.  In fact, I often start with just circles and then add the inner circles.  Establish that they are the same.  Then add walls to create a viewer’s perspective.   I have added the smiley faces and arrows to indicate viewer perspective.  You might use just arrows or stick figures or whatever suits you and your class.  The first point is that the circles are all the same.

Start with one circle, draw the inner circle then the wall (the shaded bits) and get the class to tell you where the viewer is standing and then move on to the other three circles.  If you have magnetic smiley faces or people to put in the viewer’s position, so much the better

You can draw these circles on the board – and I think that helps the students to see that the concept is more important for now than accuracy  – or use the blackline masters below (x 4) to create overheads and do it on an overhead to save time.

Perhaps by the third or fourth circle, you could indicate the viewer’s position and get the students to draw the circle and its walls.   Pace depends on level of students and their fine motor skills.

Once viewpoint is established, you can turn this in to an art class by asking the students to try it with a triangle or square.  Experiment with shadows.  If the light were over here, where would the shadows fall?  (see black line masters)

Students can try making their initials three-dimensional if they are ready for it.

And there will always be a few dextrous souls who will use more elaborate letters: Midas touch

They may even try intertwining letters to create monograms.  As long as they grasp the concept of viewpoint changing perspective and complete the assignment you give them to reinforce it, then carrying it further is all good.

One-Point Perspective.

One-Point Perspective. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lesson Two (or three or four or even five, depending what you add, how you approach this, how much time you need to take and your students.):  how does perspective affect our understanding of what we see?

There are two ways to go now, depending on your students and your time.  The short way is to return to the original circle and its inside wall.

Divide the class into four.  Pretend that there is a mural painted on the

Two-Point Perspective.

Two-Point Perspective. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

inside wall of the circle and you are going to show them as much as can be seen from one of the four viewpoints.  If you have an extensive art background and know of a mural that has four very different segments, then use it.  I am not that knowledgeable.

Little vampire

Three-Point Perspective

Three-Point Perspective (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you can actually set up this experiment rather than do it as a thought experiment, so much the better.  You could also do it looking at the outside wall, but I think that psychologically, people looking in think they know what they are seeing.

Virgin and Child with an Angel

Virgin and Child with an Angel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Otto Show

Each group of four will be given a picture of what they see when they look into the circle.  Ideally you will have something constructed with miniatures pasted on the inside so that viewers from a certain vantage point would only see a quarter of the inner walls.

I would use a picture from the Simpsons, a picture of a vampire – ideally a movie poster from a film like Twilight, a Victorian style angel holding a blonde curly-haired moppet asleep in her arms and a junkyard.  It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as the four pictures are very different.

Before you show each group its picture, explain that they must say nothing but write down the feelings the portion of the mural they see evokes in them.   Stress that they may not say anything that physically describes their portion of the mural.  They can use jot notes, it is the ideas and feelings that are important.

When they have finished ask members from each group to share how they felt.  As it becomes clear that there is some discordance here, ask why that might be and lead the discussion eventually to the concept that we rarely see every part of what is happening.  Discussion of why that is – bias, distraction, time, partial view, something seen just before etc.

This is tricky and depends on a class that has learned that it is worth working with you on thought experiments like this.  You may think of other, better ways of doing this.  If you do, please let me know.

Foreshortening (perspective).

Foreshortening (perspective). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alternatively and I haven’t worked out how to do this. 

Use a scene or a movie that can be divided into for parts.  What is important is that each part throw a different light on the story.

One of the redcoat uniforms worn by British so...

One of the redcoat uniforms worn by British soldiers in the American Revolution at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, you might show a small group of British soldiers shooting at American boys in one panel and in the previous panel show the boys throwing rocks and snowballs at the British soldiers.  A third panel could show a couple of bleeding soldiers telling the story to their superior officers and the fourth, the boys carrying an injured comrade home.

This requires drawing or finding the appropriate art work.

This is a true story.  Canadian textbooks tell it one way and the Americans tell it another.

Do as above.  This is a far more effective lesson.

Lesson Three:  what are the life lessons on perspective and understanding

(or Lesson Two, part deux or homework)

Ask the students to jot down memories of situations where the look of what was happening had nothing to do with what really was happening.

Ask them to share.

Bring it back to the larger group.

What do they infer about how they should draw conclusions about people?

Lesson Four:  How art uses perspective (or hasn’t)

You could go straight to the art part.  Personally, I think the most important part falls in lessons two and three.  They also relate to art as well as being lessons in psychology.

Famously, early medieval artists hadn’t worked out how to use perspective or show three dimensions so they made things smaller or larger to show distance or didn’t try, making things flat.  Other civilisations also stuck to two-dimensional representations, especially

Medieval art. Dancers. Español: Bailarines. Ar...

Medieval art. Dancers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

if they were carving in stone.  I’m not an expert, so I suggest you start with your own research.  Ideally use the history of the period that the class is learning as a starting place.  If you can tie in Egyptian or Medieval art, so much the better.   It shouldn’t be difficult to find examples from books or the Internet from which to legitimately either photocopy or make an overhead.

Comparing the early two-dimensional, limited perspective art with something more sophisticated will help the kids understand the difference.  From there you can go on to remind them how the circles went from two-dimensional to three.  Math enthusiasts can ask students what the fourth dimension might be (time?).

c. 1500-1450 BCE

c. 1500-1450 BCE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now ask them how the three dimensions also showed perspective.  Ask them how they might draw a train track starting at the forefront of a picture and disappearing into the distance.

Depending on where they are with mathematics, you could remind them that parallel lines never meet, but they look like they might in a painting.  In other words, art uses illusion to represent reality successfully.  Mathematics represents reality using numbers and equations.

Railroad tracks "vanishing" into the...

Railroad tracks “vanishing” into the distance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Example of 3-point perspective. Model by "... 


I haven’t forgotten literature.  All the principles mentioned so far can be applied to teaching literature of writing.  Which books or stories or poems depend on your students.  It would be lovely to take Wuthering Heights and look at it from each character’s perspective but it would be great fun to read Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne’s version, not the yucky Disney one) and try on the perspectives of the different characters.  How does Owl view himself?  How is he viewed by Pooh or Christopher Robin?  What is going on with Eeyore and the pile of sticks?  How is that a story about perspective?

The point is that you as a teacher have to decide on the material you will use to teach reading and writing using perspective.

Italiano: Prospettiva accidentale di una scala...

Italiano: Prospettiva accidentale di una scala a tre rampe, eseguita con il metodo dei punti misuratori. Il file è stato creato scandendo il disegno con uno scanner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blackline masters below:



About Diane Scaiff

Education fascinates me as a teacher, a learner and observer. I constantly wonder why certain things work and others don't, why we are told to teach in ways that are not sound, pedagogically, when we all know better. I also wonder about the impact of teaching on teachers' lives. Does it change us? Does it affect our families? What about the effect of public perceptions of teachers and our roles in the communities? How can we be scapegoats once day and saints the next? How do we deal with this? How are students affected by these perceptions? I hope to address some of these questions and more that arise from my readers as time goes on. There may be no answers, but asking questions is important. Diane B.A. (hons), Dip R.S.A., M.A.(Ed) 25 years of teaching elementary students and adults, Qualified in ESL and adaptive education.
This entry was posted in Art, Empathy, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Mathematics, Perspective, Reading, UNITS and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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