Here at the National Portrait Gallery, we use the visual clues found in our objects (painting, photography, drawing, and sculpture) to learn about the individual featured in the artwork. Do you want your students to learn about John Brown? Your first inclination might be to have them read something about Brown, and this is certainly a valid way for them to gain information. But we are asking that you turn that notion on its side and have students “read” a portrait prior to reading an essay or biography.
This guide will encourage you and your students to look at the visual image first. Although you will want to supplement the visual reading with some actual reading, we are confident that this new technique of “learning to look” will produce a richer—and possibly more memorable—examination of the individual.