This Art!Facts activity integrates visual and dramatic arts. I. Critical Analysis In their first assignment students will analyze a work of art by describing its visual properties and interpreting its subject matter and meaning. Read about Norval Morrisseau in Art!Facts. Look at his painting Shaman and Disciples and write a paragraph describing it in your own words. What is Morrisseau’s subject matter? How does the artist use colour and forms (shapes) in his art? How would you describe the composition of the work (arrangement of elements in the painting)? How would you define Morrisseau’s artistic style? Note: For more information about the process of critical analysis please refer to the Art!Facts Activity Jane Ash Poitras, The Contrary. II. Extended Stu Read More

This Art!Facts activity integrates visual and dramatic arts.

I. Critical Analysis

In their first assignment students will analyze a work of art by describing its visual properties and interpreting its subject matter and meaning.

Read about Norval Morrisseau in Art!Facts. Look at his painting Shaman and Disciples and write a paragraph describing it in your own words. What is Morrisseau’s subject matter? How does the artist use colour and forms (shapes) in his art? How would you describe the composition of the work (arrangement of elements in the painting)? How would you define Morrisseau’s artistic style?

Note: For more information about the process of critical analysis please refer to the Art!Facts Activity Jane Ash Poitras, The Contrary.

II. Extended Study Questions

The Woodland School of Art typifies an artistic style that has basic commonality in the depiction of form and the usage of line and colour. Mostly characterised as flat, two- dimensional forms separated by thick, sinuous lines, often a rich palette, and patches of bold and vibrant colours, the end result of which produces a work that has a look and feel of stained glass art. To learn more about Canada's First Nations artists whose work reflected the Woodland School of Art perform a keyword search for the following names:

  • Jackson Beardy
  • Blake Debassige
  • Alex Janvier
  • Goyce Kakegamic
  • Daphne Odjig
  • Carl Ray
  • Martin Panamick
  • Roy Thomas

III. Dramatic Performance Activity

Norval Morrisseau has been able to capture the special narratives of the Ojibway people in visual form and thus teach his audience about his cultural heritage. By learning about art and artists, we can usually learn a lot about cultural history and the context in which people live and work.

You have special stories of your own. The Art!Facts activity based on the art of Jane Ash Poitras invites you to record your history, interests, or concerns in a mixed-media work of art.  Here you will have the opportunity to work with other students in your class to share stories about your cultural heritage and to present them in a dramatic form called a tableau.

Tableau is a drama technique that presents a slice of life to the audience It is an image, like a photograph, that actors create by posing on stage. The actors hold their pose to communicate a living representation of an event, idea, or feeling.

Shaman and Disciples can be viewed as a two-dimensional tableau. Using paint and canvas, Morrisseau has captured a moment in the lesson between the Shaman and his Chelas (disciples).

Your assignment is to create a three-dimensional tableau using yourself as the medium. To prepare your tableau, follow these instructions:

Version I

1. Begin the assignment with a journal and pen. Reflect on your cultural heritage. For help getting started try answering these questions:

  • What stories did you hear growing up?
  • Who are your heroes?
  • Who do you consider an important and influential figure in history and/or in your life?
  • What special events do you recall that occurred in your life?
  • What holidays do you celebrate?
  • What is your relationship with members of your family or community?
  • Do you identify strongly with a particular ethnic group?

2. Once you have generated ideas weave your thoughts into a personal narrative. Create a first-person story of your reflections that tell people about yourself.

3. Select a group of 3-5 students. Take turns sharing your narratives.

4. As a group, select a section from each person’s story that you can build into a single tableau. Each member will assume a pose that is descriptive of an element of the story/issue that they are telling. Since everyone has a different story to tell, it is important to try to find a common thread that will bring these stories together on stage.  If you cannot find a topical commonality, then focus on the relationship of the physical poses. Allow time for rehearsal.

5. Develop your tableau with particular attention to composition. For example, balance your characters on the stage taking into consideration spaces between figures (foreground and background). Try to convey time, place, roles/characters, and tension.

6. Each group will present its tableau to the class. Pose for one minute. (Discussion can follow after all the performances or after each performance.)

7. The audience should take notes during the performance and then discuss with the class what they have observed. Audience should analyze the space, pose, facial expressions, and other objects that have been incorporated to the tableau such as a chair, window, or book. 

Option: Each group may create a tableau for each one of its members.  Thus, a group of five students will be presenting a series of five tableaus, each tableau is based on the story of one actor/actress. For this assignment the director of each tableau would be its narrator. The other four members will assume a pose based on the story and guidance of the narrator/director.

Version II

1. Get into groups of 3-5 students. Each group will choose a topic: political, social, or         personal in nature that has some meaning to you and/or your family. Some topics for consideration are: racism, popular media, an influential individual of past or present such as a political leader, or a political event such as elections. (If the educator prefers to use this activity as a drama exercise or to explore ideas irrespective of personal or cultural matters, s/he may allocate topics to groups.)

2. Brainstorm on your topic jotting down information. Once you have generated ideas elect a director and then define each member’s role to build your tableau.  Each member will assume a pose that is descriptive of an element of the story/issue that they are telling. Allow time for rehearsal.

3. Develop your tableau with particular attention to composition. For example, balance your characters on the stage taking into consideration spaces between figures (foreground and background). Try to convey time, place, roles/characters, and tension.

4. Each group will present its tableau to the class. Pose for one minute. (Discussion can follow after all the performances or after each performance.)

5. The audience should take notes throughout the performance and then discuss with the class what they have observed. Audience should analyse the space, pose, facial expression, and other objects that have been incorporated to the tableau such as a chair, window, or book.

Option: To add movement and interest to this activity, students can also express their ideas through dance or slow motion.  Instead of a static tableau, the active body can be used as a medium to communicate the students’ work.


© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

Norval Morrisseau Shaman and Disciples Learning Object Activity is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives:

  • Learn about the artist and his contribution to Canadian art;
  • Explore themes in Canadian history and cultural heritage;
  • Establish links between art and cultural identity;
  • Learn about a type of Canadian art – First Nations art, and demonstrate knowledge in the art of other cultures, nations, and groups;
  • Identify, research, and describe visual characteristics and themes found in Canadian and other cultures’ art;
  • Demonstrate an understanding that the function of art may vary from culture to culture;
  • Discuss and analyze a work of art using principles of design and other artistic terminology, and classify a work of art by period, style, and subject matter;
  • Use appropriate art vocabulary related to materials, processes, and technologies;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of materials, basic skills, and concepts in painting;
  • Demonstrate an ability to express oneself physically and theatrically;
  • Demonstrate an ability to incorporate personal interests in various fine arts, namely drama;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the interaction of the various fine arts such as drama (dance) and visual arts; and
  • Identify the skills required in various visual arts and art-related careers.

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