Jessica Russo Scherr

Art Education

Journal Prompts

Write, Create, Explore, Think!

In your journal: Address the prompts through with bullet points,, images, full sentences, diagrams or whatever means necessary.


You are not limited to the prompts below.  You may also address your own compelling questions about art, responses to current events in the art world or art related articles.


The links following most of the prompts are meant to facilitate your investigation, however, they should not be your only reference.


Some of the prompts may be the foundation for the creation of studio works.


Prompts will be changed and updated periodically.


Some Art:21 videos may not load.  Search for them on or




How are mothers, fathers or children (pick one) depicted in art throughout history and across cultures? Reference Article: Motherhood


Create:  Research a specific location, in your neighborhood or elsewhere. Collect photographs that document a change in that place over time. Use layering and tracing to build an image that reflects this history but becomes increasingly abstract, with successive layers. Write a statement that reflects on the process of visually representing a history. (Reference artist: Julie Mehretu)



Power:  How is the theme of power reflected in the ideas and concerns of contemporary artists.


Respond to this quote: "Drawing is very central to the way that I work because it can be blown up, taken apart.... You can just keep on pushing it, like this infinite machine...."
—Matthew Ritchie


 Grab your favorite novel and randomly open it to any page. Read the first paragraph on that page and illustrate it.


Create a drawing and take a digital photograph of it. Exchange your photo for a classmate's and erase, add to, or alter the image you received. Photograph this work and repeat the process with other classmates. Reflect on how the original drawings change over time.


Do you doodle on your notes in other classes?  Just doodle until you fill an entire page but make it extra interesting!  Advanced doodling!!  Look up zentangles for inspiration.


Memory: How does memory function? What is history? How do contemporary artists frame the past in their work?


Pick an object in your house. While looking only at the object, put your pen to paper and draw it without picking up your pen. Now add some color to your crazy drawing.


How can artists guide or even control the way audiences see and experience their work?


Compare and Contrast:



What are the issues involved in borrowing, adapting, or recycling imagery produced by other people? Carrie Mae Weems sometimes uses appropriated imagery in her work, and the process raises important questions about authorship and originality. Discuss the issues related to appropriated imagery.




Animate a series of found or borrowed images, to create a critique or comment on a current social issue. (Reference Artist:  Carrie Mae Weems)


In what ways does personal or family history affect or influence our understanding of the past? What is the role of photography in documenting and constructing personal history?




Photograph a reconstruction or reenactment of an important moment in your own personal or family history, using friends or classmates as models. Tell the story in a text that accompanies the work. How does reenacting the event change your understanding of that moment in your own history? How do personal histories or social histories affect the present?


Paradox: How do contemporary artists address contradiction, ambiguity, and truth? Reference: ART 21 VIDEO: PARADOX



Take a minute to connect with your feelings. Close your eyes and imagine what your feelings would look like, and then draw or paint them.


In what ways can art convey equilibrium or disequilibrium? Art21 VIDEO: Balance



Describe an instance when you were confronted with something familiar that was distorted, transformed, or even mutilated. Describe artworks, advertisements, or aspects of popular culture that play with or distort familiar genres or subject matter. (Reference Artist: Paul McCarthy)



Found Objects:  Is this really art?  Respond to this article Huffington Post: Really, you call this art?


You live in a city known for rebirth (the Renaissance).  What are the symbols of rebirth and why are they used? NPR Art celebrates rebirth


  Write down five of your core beliefs. Pick one and illustrate it.


What is the importance of creativity in the world? Watch a TateShot video and respond thoughtfully.



George Nick (Realism Painter) said “Don’t render the motif. Let cameras do that kind of work. Paint parallel to what you see”  Look at his work and analyze what he meant by that quote. George Nick


Discuss and reflect on the Saatchi Debate: Museums are bad at telling us why art matters: VIDEO


Select an object, idea, or element from popular culture that you think is important but misunderstood or not taken seriously. Appropriate and transform it to make a work of art that reflects its significance. (Reference Artist:  Jeff Koons)



Where does the line between comic art and fine art begin or is there a line at all? NPR the-serious-comic-art-of-daniel-clowes


Analyze the symbolism in The Arnolfini Portrait. It is an is an oil painting on oak panel dated 1434 by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck.

Discuss this program regarding museum visits for Alzheimer patients. NPR: museum-visit-for-art-lovers-with-alzheimers


Does the Mona Lisa have a twin? NPR: painting-sheds-new-light-on-the-mona-lisa



Make a list of the tools and techniques that Maier-Ai chen uses to alter or manipulate the images he photographs. Consider how his process includes the practices of traditional and contemporary photography.

How has technology influenced art making? NPR: In-paris-a-display-from-hockney-s-pixelated-period


Consider the relationship between documentary photography and art photography. Do photographs always reflect reality or truth? Can a photograph be fictional? Discuss these questions, using examples of photographs from the news, art history, and popular culture.

Consider the terms traditional sculpture and social sculpture. What forms might these types of sculpture take? Look at examples of contemporary and historical sculpture. How do they reflect or defy the categories of traditional and social sculpture? (You may want look up artists Joseph Beuys and Kimsooja)



Consider how the methods of photography and topography represent place and location. Research photographs of a location in your neighborhood (or take your own photos) and find a map of that same location. Combine the two types of images, to create a work of art that simultaneously represents and abstracts that place. (Reference Artist: Florian Maier-Ai chen)


What are the benefits and drawbacks of having a plan when creating a work of art? Compare them to the benefits and drawbacks of spontaneity.


Fill a blank page with detailed overlapping shapes. Paint or color them in and use color theory (complementary, analogous, tints and shades to influence your color use).


Create a video or series of photographic images that describe how you see yourself, in relation to your school, community, city, or country.




Assemble a unique collection of objects that reflect aspects of your daily life, and use them to form a sculpture or installation. Write a brief description of each object's significance to you, and describe how they contribute to the finished artwork.




Stories:  How do artists tell stories in their work?


Time:  How do artist evoke or transform time in their work?



History: How do artists mine the past to explore the present?



Create two paintings in your journal, using two different approaches. First, create an abstract image, and title it after you are finished. Second, create a title, and then create an abstract image. How do the processes and finished works differ from each other?


Change: How do artists respond to a world in flux? Art 21 Video-Change



Place: How does contemporary art address the idea of place? Art 21 video place



Spirituality: How does contemporary art address the idea of spirituality? ART 21 VIDEO SPIRITUALITY



How does contemporary art address the idea of identity? ART 21 VIDEO IDENTITY



Who and what limits our freedom of expression? ART 21 VIDEO BOUNDARIES



Consumption: How does contemporary art address the idea of consumption? ART 21 VIDEO CONSUMPTION


 Construct a journal page around the last time that you traveled.


Analyze the symbolism in The Arnolfini Portrait is an oil painting on oak panel dated 1434 by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck.



 What’s your favorite fairy tale? Draw or paint your favorite scene.


How are heroes portrayed in artworks?  Give examples and analyze.




How are villains portrayed in artworks?  Give examples and analyze.




What is an icon? Can a contemporary work of art function as an icon? Why or why not? Give specific examples.



Assemble a collection of works that juxtapose abstract and representational images—found, drawn, painted, or created digitally. Narrate a story based on the sequence of the images.



Respond to this quote: "Words are just a way we communicate. Images are a way we communicate. And I couldn't figure out why they had to be in different baskets."
—John Baldessari



Compare the use of icons and iconographic imagery in Mary Heilmann's work to the approaches of other artists, including: Lari Pittman (, Allan McCollum, Pierre Huyghe, Jeff Koons, John Feodorov (, and Matthew Barney.


Take your art journal outside and document what you see. Write it, draw it, or paint it.



Jeff Koons says: "You know, art can be something which can really dis-empower people, or it can be a vehicle which can empower people." Find artworks you consider to be either empowering or dis-empowering. Discuss the formal elements of these works, and identify the elements that either give or take away power from the viewer. Consider this question: what is the power of art?



Italy: Funds-short Museum Burns Art In Protest:  Respond to this article. Huffington Post: Museum-burns-art



How creativity responds to immorality.   Respond to this article  How creativity connects art



Write a review for Alice Neel’s later portraits and still life works.  Alice Neel portraits and still lifes.


Design a toy inspired by a famous work from art history. (Reference artist:  Jeff Koons)


Discuss and reflect on the SAATCHI GALLERY DEBATE: CAN ART BE TAUGHT TO THE FACEBOOK GENERATION? Use these links as references:


Is Dale Chihuly a legitimate artist?



Compare the way Kimsooja thinks about sculpture to the approaches of other artists, including: Kiki Smith, Jessica Stockholder, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra, Richard Tuttle, and Jeff Koons.



Alter a postcard image to fictionalize or reinterpret a familiar tourist or local destination. (reference artist: "Rügenlandschaft," 2007. C-print, 42 3/8 x 75 3/4 inches. © Florian Maier-Ai chen Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles and 303 Gallery, New York.)




How has digital technology influenced the way we take photographs? How has photography changed since the nineteenth century?


Create: Distort or destroy a work of art you created, in order to make something new that conveys a different or opposing message.


Create:  Paul McCarthy says that making videos is like making paintings, but he distinguishes between the different kinds of narrative they produce. Discuss this idea, and create a two-dimensional painting or collage on a chosen theme—using popular imagery and objects—and then translate the image into a video or sequence of images.


What subjects, ideas, or imagery are considered taboo in contemporary society, or in particular cultures? Why do you think these taboos exist? How are social mores and conventions of social behavior established, and how are they enforced? Find artists to relate to this topic.

Discuss an artist who works simultaneously in more than one discipline, such as visual art and theater. What kinds of work does this artist produce? How is it similar to or different from the work of artists who focus on a single discipline?




Mary Heilmann reflects on her Catholic upbringing and makes a strong connection between abstract art and religion. The artist says: "An artwork can transport a person in a soulful, rich way without having any fear of punishment or hell or sin or any of those other good things." Consider this statement, and write stories or share experiences about works of art that have transported you.


How can colors and shapes convey a narrative? Can abstract imagery tell a story? How?


Regarding Mary Heilmann:  She says that she wanted viewers to have an antagonistic response to her early work. What do you think that comment means? Describe other artists or art movements that have "caused trouble" and challenged the status quo?


Regarding Mary Heilmann:  She says that color can be thought of in an iconographic way. List the colors that could be considered iconographic in Heilmann's work, and the associations they bring to mind.


Where do cultural trends come from, and how do they spread? Define the terms street culture and popular culture. How do they differ? In what cases might they be the same?


Define the terms modernism and modernity. What is the difference? Discuss the historical context in which modernism developed, and give examples of artworks that can be described as modern. How does contemporary art relate to its modern antecedents?

What do portrait photographers create, for whom, and for what occasions?



Compare Cindy Sherman's photographs to portraits from other art-historical periods and other cultures; describe their similarities and differences. Discuss the contexts, intentions, and subjects in other forms of portraiture. How do they relate to or diverge from Sherman's work?


Pick a lyric from one of favorite songs and illustrate it.


Discuss the term artistic license. What is it? How might this term apply to the choices that Cindy Sherman makes in her work?


If you had one superpower what would it be? Create a drawing about that.



How do makeup, accessories, clothing, and other props affect identity? How do they affect the way we present ourselves to the world? How can these things shape or create an alter ego, personality, or identity? (Reference Artist:  Cindy Sherman)


How would you describe the characters that Cindy Sherman creates? Select one portrait and note the visual clues that Sherman has included in the image. What do they tell you about the character she is presenting? Who is this person? Where is she? Imagine what might have happened to this character in the moments before and after the photograph was taken.



What role does technology play in our ability to fantasize? How might fantasy be a strategy to cope with something that is beyond one's reach? Look at the work of Cao Fei



Doris Salcedo describes her work as an attempt to rescue a memory. What do you think she means by this? What kinds of memories is Salcedo trying to rescue? How does she do this?



How has technology changed both the ways that art can be made and who makes it? What new tools, equipment, and methods are artists using, that integrate technology into their processes?



Discuss the concept of utopia. What makes something utopian? How does technology contribute new ways of defining and imagining utopia?


How can popular objects be transformed into works of art? (Reference Artist:  Jeff Koons) Consider other artists who reference or work with objects and ideas from popular culture, including John Baldessari, Michael Ray Charles, Pierre Huyghe, and Cindy Sherman.



Respond to this quote:  "Beauty is just kind of an accident. Beauty is just a happenstance. Beauty is the remainders of being a painter."
—Kara Walker



Respond to these art world controversies Art Controversies


What is the point of photo-realism in art when you can just take a photo? Reference Article:  Article



What is more important in art-talent/artistic ability OR Concepts?



Compassion: Might a work of art move us to temper our more destructive impulses? In what ways do artists’ feelings of empathy contribute to works that tackle problematic subjects and address the human condition? ART 21 VIDEO COMPASSION


Humor: How do artists use irony, goofiness, satire, and sarcasm in their work?



Ecology: How is our understanding of the natural world deeply cultural?



Protest: How do contemporary artists engage politics, inequality, and the many conflicts that besiege the world today? and

Structures in art:



Play:  How can art be playful.



Romance: What role do intuition, emotion, fantasy, and escapism play in contemporary art?



Cindy Sherman discusses growing up and experimenting with makeup: "So, I think I would play in my room and see what makeup could do. Sometimes I'd become a character." What strategies do artists employ to transform a material, an idea, or themselves within their work, and to what effect? How do individuals fashion a character? How might an overall image inspire certain actions or behaviors? Do outward appearances affect identity, or does identity affect the choices we make about how we present ourselves?

Discuss and define the words parody and mimicry. How do these terms relate to humor and satire?



Describe the figures in Yinka Shonibare's work, including their construction and clothing. Why did Shonibare present them this way? Describe the identities of the figures.



Consider how artists connect personal and social history in their work, including: Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Louis Bourgeois, and An-My Lê.


 Journal about your unhealthy habits


Assemble a collection of political cartoons that describe the cultural climate of the moment. Use the images as inspiration, to create an original cartoon representing your own perspective about the current political or social climate.


Find a poem and let it inspire your next art journal page


Discuss examples of parody and mimicry found in art history or contemporary culture. Why and how are they used in art?


 Paint or illustrate how you feel when you’re at your favorite place


How is beauty defined? Why might beauty be important to society and culture? In what ways are notions of beauty different within different cultures, and in what ways are they similar?


Think back to your favorite childhood memory and use that to inspire your next art journal page.



 Illustrate your favorite moment from the past week


 Working with a small group of students, choose a Sherman photograph and ask each person to write a short story that relates to the character portrayed in the image. Compare similarities and differences between each of the stories, and discuss the aspects of the photograph that inspired different interpretations.



Think about the last movie that you watched. What did it leave you feeling? Illustrate it


What are the qualities or characteristics that define something as art, versus something that is not art? How and why are these definitions established?


 Pick three colors. Draw an animal using a pen, and then use only those three colors to fill it in.


Transformation in Art:



Draw a staircase, and think about your biggest dream. Draw it at the top of the staircase and then fill each step with the “steps” you’d have to take to make your biggest dream a reality.


Systems in art:



How do artists use strategies of erasure and concealment in their work, and to what effect? Can absence be as compelling as presence? How?




How does the scale of an artwork affect the way that one might experience it?



Create a work of art—without using representations or images of human figures—that communicates something about an experience of another person or other people.



Julie Mehretu describes the process of making a series of paintings. She states: "Many parts of the drawing will also be erased. So, the paintings will build up, and then a big portion of them, somehow or another, will disappear. So then, hopefully, the paintings will also just interact, to talk about disintegration."Create a drawing that incorporates both additive and subtractive marks, as a way to represent the transformations of a particular room, public space, or element in nature, over time. (Reference artist: Julie Mehretu)



Create a set of instructions for a work of art, and ask three different people to carry them out. Compare the results, and discuss how and why the interpretations of the instructions varied.




What is uniqueness? Discuss the question of whether a work of art is inherently unique. How might the consideration of prints or photographs influence this discussion?




Compare and contrast Barry McGee’s work and an average street/graffiti artist’s work.


Plein Air Cloud Study


Describe the tradition of heraldry. How do symbolic systems like heraldry categorize or represent groups of people? What are some contemporary symbols used to define or describe groups?




Select a mass-produced item and collect examples of it over the course of a few days. At the end of this period, begin making slight changes to each of the items, in order to create unique objects. Create an installation of these unique objects in order to tell a story about the process or the idea behind collecting the item.



Create a response to: 'What Every Young Artist Should Know' Of all the influential artists you've never heard of, John Baldessari is, if not the most influential, at least the tallest. and  you may also use  this video or this longer video



Choose a work by John Baldessari, and talk about the process of looking. What images or ideas do you notice first, second, third? How does your eye travel around these images? What has Baldessari prioritized, and why? How has the artist controlled your experience of viewing?


How does John Baldessari's work and working process reflect constraint as well as artistic freedom?





Compare John Baldessari's ideas about defining art to the approaches of other artists, including: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Doris Salcedo, Janine Antoni, and Do-Ho Suh.





Create.  John
Baldessari talks about text and image as interchangeable forms of language, and he describes the process of making his photomontages as building a poem, not from words but with images. Create a poem out of images and an image out of words, based on a single theme, word, or idea.




How can human rights activism be portrayed in art?



Respond to this quote: "I still think the social function of art is that kind of negative aesthetic. Otherwise there’s no social function for it."
—Mike Kelley



Development versus preservation:  Giotto frescoes could suffer "irreversible damage" from development plans.




UC Riverside Facial Recognition Technology To Identify Fine Art Subjects




What will your artwork look like in 10 years?




Look at the life of an artist and explore the relationship between their personal and professional life. What artists did they admire, and is that influence evident in the work. How did the time in which the artist lived influence the work created?





Does another passion fuel your work? Science, psychology, math, English, sports, music, history, etc... If so provide images and information related to this area you wish to use to inform your work.



Read and write a personal commentary/reflection/your option about one of the articles on the IB Art Flipboard. See link below.





Just about every example is from a former student of mine.  Many thanks to them for all of their time and dedication.

How to earn a good grade on your homework

Follow the criteria presented in class and on the website.

Homework  assignments will take between 1 and 3 hours to complete.

All homework should be completed in your journal unless specified otherwise (not printer paper).

Fill the A4 Page of your journal.

Include a background when applicable.

Shade using a full range of values using a drawing pencil unless specified otherwise.

©2018 Jessica Russo Scherr text and photographs. All rights reserved. Any reprinting or republishing of the content of this web site requires permission from the author.

Many of the prompts were taken from, modified or inspired by,