Ekphrastic Poetry Video Resources for Students

Inspire ekphrastic poetry with these virtual videos

Ekphrastic poetry is a fresh, creative way to integrate more art content into your English class. After all, for many students, art sits on the back burner in their academic world.

Think about it: there’s a reason art and music classes are called “specials.” They’re considered superfluous, “extra,” not really that necessary.

However, I beg to differ.

“The arts challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with ‘others,’ and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition,” write Brian Kisida and Daniel Bowen of The Brookings Institution in their article, New Evidence of the Benefits of Arts Education. To be sure, empathy and other soft skills, such as understanding and tolerance for ideas different from our own, are always in demand.

Enter ekphrastic poetry.

I’ve already experimented with ekphrastic poetry this school year by incorporating ekphrasis into my high school writer’s workshop and also in 50-minute lessons.

But recently, while searching for a variety of resources for a Transcendentalism unit, I wished to incorporate some artwork alongside the writing of the Transcendental trio, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.

I wanted to do more than just read those foundational essays. I wanted students to experience beautiful landscape paintings and then merge those paintings with their own budding poetry skills.

Pairing Transcendental authors with the Hudson River School (HRS) artists was a no-brainer. After all, “…Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the Hudson River School helped shape an emerging national identity,” writes Max Oelschlaeger in “The Roots of Preservation” from the National Humanities Center. 

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art offers virtual reality videos for ekphrastic poetry.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas | Read my Medium article, “There are no crystal bridges at Crystal Bridges… and other thoughts about the best art museum you’ve probably never heard of”

In my search for resources, I came across these three amazing virtual reality videos from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

I was immediately taken by the quality and immersive experience of these videos. Plus, at three minutes in length, they’re practical for a mini-lesson or an extended lesson in a 50-60 minute class period.

These 3-min. virtual reality art videos allow your students to:

  • enter a painting to experience its history from the inside out, including the social context that influenced its creation
  • gain interesting details about artistic techniques
  • learn about the artists, their motivations, and creative processes
  • be inspired as they compose their own ekphrastic poems

While I’ll be posting soon on the ekphrastic poems my students will write based on Kindred Spirits, the masterpiece by HRS mainstay Asher B. Durand, I thought I would provide you this week with links to these incredible videos provided by the museum.

1. Our Town by Kerry James Marshall

Any of these videos would inspire an interesting poetry activity that could be used to supplement a related literature unit.

2. Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand

Each of these videos is three to four minutes in length… an ideal length for an initial “cold” viewing followed up by a second viewing before beginning to write.

3. Glass and Bottle by Suzy Frelinghuysen

The Glass and Bottle video discusses Cubism in an accessible way. Your students will be amazed at how the shapes in the painting are separated into 3-D layers before their eyes. It’s a mesmerizing three minutes!

By the way, if you’ve never visited Crystal Bridges…

…you should put it on your calendar for a future excursion.

It’s truly a world-class museum. Founded by Walmart-heiress Alice Walton, the museum brings world-class masterpieces to the underserved areas of northwestern Arkansas, northeastern Oklahoma, and southwest Missouri.

Fiber "We the People" artwork by Nari Ward hangs at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. This piece would make a great ekphrastic poem.
We the People by Nari Ward | Photo: Steven Zucker/Smarthistory | License

Side Note: About two years ago, I supervised a middle school field trip to Crystal Bridges. (It was a well-organized, thoughtful tour provided at no charge to students or our school, by the way.) The tour paired fascinating artworks with engaging, brief writing activities… plus lunch! I highly recommend.

So, after watching one of these videos, then what do students do?!

If you hear “Now what?” after watching one of these videos, suggest three approaches to your students for writing an ekphrastic poem. Here they are:

  1. Describe the artwork. Art blogger Martyn Crucefix suggests this simplest way of ekphrastic poetry writing. Describe what you see… colors, shapes, subject matter.
  2. Describe but also imagine. Crucefix suggests responding to questions posed by the painting. Is there a road in the painting? Write about where it might lead. Is there an interesting character in the painting? Make up a story about who he or she may be.
  3. Describe but also incorporate artist information. Do a quick Google search to discover the context of the work. Use those details in the poem.

There are many ways for students to connect “ekphrastically” with artworks, but for now, try these three to get your students started.

I hope this post offers you some practical and easy ways to explore ekphrastic poetry with your students. It’s an area that excites me. As the wife of a ceramic artist and college art professor, and mother to a budding portrait photographer (my son) and art history graduate student (my daughter), the arts are integral to my life.

Check out my other posts on ekphrastic poetry:

Need a new poetry lesson?

Treasured Object Poem assignment sheet
Treasured Object Poems

Enter your email in the bar below and I’ll send you this PDF file you can use tomorrow to show your students how to write Treasured Object Poems.

It’s one of our favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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