Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: Short Activity
30 minutes
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Activity Overview

Researchers in museums have found that 30 seconds is the average amount of time visitors spend in front of works of art. After looking at a work of art it for only 30 seconds, students will use their visual recall to discuss what they noticed in order to demonstrate that really seeing and reflecting on a work of art requires time.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• give reasons why more than 30 seconds is required to look at a work of art in order to gain an understanding of it.
• give reasons why discussing a work of art with others increases their understanding of it.


• pencils and paper

Activity Steps

1. Ask students to estimate the average amount of time they spend when looking at a work of art. Record their responses and discuss the factors they believe affect the amount of time. Ask students how long they think adults spend, on average, looking at a work of art. Record their responses and discuss why there may be a difference between an adult's and a child's looking. After students have answered, explain that researchers have discovered that the average time that adults spend looking at one object in a museum is less than 30 seconds. Are 30 seconds ample to spend with a work of art? Why or why not? Try the following experiment to test their answers.

2. Direct students to sit in front of a work of art and to study it for 30 seconds then ask them to turn their backs to the artwork.

3. While students are still turned away, ask them to list what they noticed in it or ask questions to help their recall, such as:
• How many people are in the work of art?
• How would you describe them?
• How is each one dressed?
• What kind of setting is depicted?
• Is the scene tidy or chaotic?
• Are there any animals in the work of art?
• How would you describe them?
• What is the subject of the work of art?
• What kind of mood has the artist created?

Ask students to describe the one aspect of the work of art they remember most vividly. Encourage all students to share and discuss their answers. Did everyone notice the same things? Comment on the variety of responses.

4. Have students turn around and face the artwork. Ask them what they see that they did not notice the first time. Guide them through a careful re-examination of the artwork.

5. Ask students to share their ideas about what the work of art may be about. If the work of art is narrative in nature, encourage students to speculate on the story.

6. Ask students to consider how much longer they spent looking at the image the second time. Was their first glance sufficient? Ask students if discussing and comparing observations with other people helped them understand the work of art. Have the students explain their answers.

Ransom / Millais
The Ransom, John Everett Millais