Students discuss a 17th-century painting that depicts musicians in the middle of a fight. They will write a one-paragraph description of the painting in the present tense. Students speculate about what happened before and after the scene depicted in the painting, and then use past and future tenses to write narratives based on their speculations. In the narratives, each student will add descriptive idioms about characters in the painting and draw a visual representation of an idiom.
Describing a Painting in the Present
1. Display a reproduction of The Musicians' Brawl by Georges de La Tour. Tell students that the artist who created the painting was known for painting realistic details. Instruct students to focus only on the details they observe and not to use their imaginations or guess about what is going on in the painting.
2. Pass out paper and pencils to the students. Have them write their initial observations about the painting. Also write their responses on the board or on chart paper.
3. Prompt further discussion by asking students the following questions. Then have them add their responses to the list:
How would you describe the characters?
How would you describe their expressions?
What are they holding?
What are they wearing?
What textures do you see?
Tell students that Georges de La Tour is greatly admired for his ability to realistically paint textures such as fabric, wood, and skin.
4. Have each student write a one-paragraph description of the characters in the painting in the present tense from the third-person perspective, using the list as a guide. Remind them to focus only on what they see rather than use their imaginations.
Imagining the Past
1. Revisit The Musicians' Brawl. Have students speculate about what they think is happening in the painting. Prompt discussion with the following questions:
What can you infer about the characters by their clothes?
Based on the characters' expressions, what do you think each character is thinking?
2. Review the Background Information about The Musicians' Brawl. Provide students with additional background information about the painting. Tell them that de La Tour was interested in depicting the real world: His religious paintings and everyday scenes alike reveal the artist's attention to the minute details of the everyday world, such as the fabric of clothing and individuals' facial expressions. Tell them the artist created at least two other paintings of blind musicians. The subject of the beggar musician, in particular, was popular in painting in the 17th century. At this time, it was common for blind men to make a living as musicians, and there are historical records that show that brawls between musicians did occur.
3. Have students work in pairs and discuss what they think might have happened to cause the brawl depicted in the painting. Remind students to use the past tense when discussing what happened. Encourage students to look for clues in the painting. You may wish to prompt discussion by asking students the following:
What do the characters' expressions reveal about what might have happened?
Which of the characters started the fight? Why do you think so?
Why do you think one of the figures is holding a lemon?
4. Have each pair of students share their version of the story. On the board or chart paper, write the verb phrases they used to tell their stories, correcting students' use of the past tense as appropriate.
5. Tell students to use the past tense in a one-page paragraph that describes what they think happened before the scene depicted in the painting.
Predicting the Future
1. Revisit The Musicians' Brawl once more. Have students work in pairs to speculate about what they think happened after the scene depicted in the painting. Remind students to use the future tense when discussing what will happen. Prompt discussion with the following questions:
What do the characters' expressions reveal about what will happen?
What do you think will happen with the lemon?
How will the brawl end? Why do you think so?
How will each character feel?
2. Have each pair of students share their version of the end of the story. On the board or chart paper, write the verb phrases that students use to tell their stories, correcting students use of the future tense as appropriate.
3. Tell students to use the future tense to write a one-page paragraph that describes what they think happened after the scene depicted in the painting.
Embellishing with Idioms
1. Tell students that de La Tour focused on people in his works of art; his paintings do not include natural environments. In The Musicians' Brawl, the artist did not include much information about the musician's surroundings. Instead, he wanted viewers to focus on the characters' outward appearance (clothing and expressions) to tell the story.
2. Inform students that they will embellish their stories by writing idioms focused on the outward appearance of the characters in the painting. Explain that idioms are expressions used by a particular people or community. Idioms cannot be translated into another language literally, but other languages might have their own idioms that carry similar meanings. For example, the idioms "The man sees red" and "The man is at the boiling point" both mean that the man is very angry. In the Spanish language, "Está cómo agua para chocolate" literally translates to English as "He or she is like water for chocolate"; however, the phrase is used to describe someone who is at the boiling point! This idiom stems from the process of making hot chocolate, during which the chocolate must be added when the water is boiling.
3. Ask students if they can think of an idiom to describe a character in the painting in their native language. Help them to come up with an English–language equivalent. Then write the idiom on the board or chart paper.
4. Have students re-read all three paragraphs each student wrote. Instruct them to circle areas where they are describing a character. Tell students to revise with or to add at least one English–language idiom to each of their paragraphs.
5. Pass out colored pencils and drawing paper. Have each student choose a favorite idiom from his or her writings and illustrate that idiom on drawing paper. Tell students to include realistic details of texture or animated expressions in their drawings. You may wish to point out a few examples of how de La Tour created texture (i.e., using fine wavy lines for hair and adding touches of white for the smooth, gleaming surfaces of the knife and violin).
6. When the drawings are complete, tell students to exchange their drawings with a partner and have the partner guess the idiom that they illustrated.
Assess students' writing based on the following criteria:
correct use of paragraph form (i.e., indentation and complete sentences)
correct use of present, past, and future tenses
inclusion of at least one English-language idiom
in their descriptive paragraphs, the inclusion of facts based on observations
in their narratives, evidence of close-looking at the painting in order to speculate about what happened before and after the scene
Assess students' drawings based on whether they:
depict a visual representation of an English-language idiom.
include realistic details of texture or animated expressions.