This gallery highlights how a single object can be explored in a variety of ways, and fulfill goals for educators and students across a multitude of curricula.
Description: John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark, painted in 1778, marks the artist's transition from working on portraits to large-scale "history paintings" that were considered the apex of the medium; monumental compositions that attempted to convey moralistic content in a narrative fashion. Copley, a Colonial American, left the burgeoning nation for a forty-year career in London starting in 1774. Watson and the Shark, on view at the MFA Boston's Art of the Americas wing, depicts the "pregnant moment" of an attempt to rescue the young merchant Brook Watson (1735-1807) in the harbor of Havana, Cuba.
Learning Goals: In exploring this lesson, students will...
- Use Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) centered around a single object, to demonstrate the substantive and diverse anaylsis of a lone artistic work.
- Appreciate the significance of a "pregnant moment" in narrative art; that is, how art can provoke the viewer's imagination by showing a moment in transition, rather than a moment in climax.
- Relate a single work of art to social studies, studio art, and art historical contexts; learn how art can be discussed in an inter-disciplinary fashion.
Using this Resource: Social Studies teachers will be interested in using this lesson as a visual supplement in any cirriculum covering Colonial America, and/or eighteenth century Britain. Studio Art teachers will be interested in using this lesson to let students explore how an artist may make narrative choices, project his or her biography in art, use a single composition to spark the viewer's imagination across multiple topics. Supplementary materials and activities are available to download under Related Reosurces at the bottom of this page. The object in this lesson is just the beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source - or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries - to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this topic.