“Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living”. Stephen Fry

Art is communication. Every painting tells a story, and finding stories inside paintings makes art a springboard to learning and a key to unlocking creative thought.

This lesson plan is based on Tracy Chevalier’s TED talk “Finding the Story inside the Painting” and takes learners on a journey in the land of imagination and emotion.

Step 1. 

Tell students they are going to watch a talk given by Tracy, a woman who suffers from gallery fatigue. Split students into small groups and ask them to think what gallery fatigue could be about. Share ideas in class. Watch the first part of the video (0:01-1:21). Get feedback.

Step 2.

Ask students how it could be remedied. Ask students to think of a list of things they could do to fight off gallery fatigue. Share ideas in class. Watch the second part of the video (1:21-3:02). Get feedback.

Step 3.

Ask students whether we all share the same perceptions whenever we see a piece of art. Tell them they would participate in an experiment. Each team would get a set of paintings and try and answer the following questions:

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer


  • How would you describe the expression on the girl’s face?
  • What does she do in Vermeer’s house?
  • How does she feel about Vermeer? What are Vermeer’s feelings to the girl?

What makes you think so? Try to spot some details on the painting proving your ideas.

“Boy Building a House of Cards” by Chardin

Detail from Boy Building a House of Cards by Chardin, 1735

  • Is the boy alone in the room?
  • If the boy is not, who could be there with him?
  • Who is the boy not willing to talk to?

Portrait of an unknown French Nobleman (Anonymous French Artist)

Anonymous French Artist

  • Is this person happy?
  • Name one thing that strikes your attention.
  • What is this man preoccupied with?

Share the ideas. As students watch the third part of the video (3:02-11:52) their task is to compare their ideas with the ideas given by the presenter. Get feedback.

Step 4.

Ask whether their ideas were the same or different, and if they are different, then in what way. Discuss what could lie behind these differences – “we all have different stories”. Tell students that they will watch the last part of the video (11:52 – 14:09) and listen to Tracy’s story based on this painting.

Get feedback.

Step 5. Dictogloss.

Students listen to the story again (11:52 – 14:09), take notes and then reconstruct the story in their groups.

Home assignment:

Go to and experience a wonderful journey. Write a story based on your journey or a particular painting. Present it in class.

Happy teaching!

*Transcript –

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