I’ve been using artworks for years as visual information to help me to brainstorm, re-word and improve my questions.
I’m not an ‘expert questioner’ by any means and have found that this is a skill that I have had to consistently work at to improve. By using artworks, I really enjoy the process too. There are lots of interesting ways you can do this – here are 9 ways you can use artworks to improve your questioning skills.

1. Choose an Artwork that Promotes Curiosity

You want something that is complex enough to foster inquiry, but not so complicated that it bewilders you. The artwork should appeal to you, spark your interest or have a connection or meaning for you. You don’t need to know anything about the artwork or the artist. It might be something that puzzles you or you have questions about. Or something you want to understand better – this is the time to do it! Choose something that is detailed and deserves close-looking.

2. Pair the Artwork with a Provocation

We know artworks spark curiosity and curiosity drives questions, so pairing an artwork with a provocation will super-charge your question-storming or for the group you’re working with. Adding a provocative statement or, even just the title, will help you brainstorm more questions, and, even better, more powerful questions. A provocation is a  statement that stirs thought, wonder, engagement, curiosity and, obviously, questions. Your statement should have an element of mystery or surprise to provoke your curiosity. Importantly, it should be a statement rather than a question as it’s harder to think of questions of another question. Think ‘Modern art is rubbish’ or ’Torture is a necessary evil’ as provocative statements. 

3. Use the Artwork for Question-Storming

This is a great way to capture a large number of questions at a time. Like brain-storming, it allows participants to express ideas in a less filtered and restrictive way. By generating LOTS of questions at one, you instantly feel more comfortable and adept at forming questions. Secondly, everyone can participate in question-storming as everyone can ask questions. Lastly, it encourages you to think in questions which improves your question generator capabilities. The idea is to focus on the questions and write them down exactly as you think (or say) them. Don’t try to answer them. Volume of questions is the priority here. There are a variety of ways to question-storm – thinking routines See Think Wonder, See Wonder Connect and Think Puzzle Explore are great for this, or try 10 in 10 (thinking up 10 questions in 10 minutes)

4. Use Question Stems

Use question stems to create your own open-ended questions about the artwork. The ‘question starts’ in the thinking routine ‘Creative Questions’ provide inspiration to get you started with the process of phrasing interesting questions. With repeated use, these questions starts and the language of inquiry becomes automatic and phrasing good, substantial open-ended questions of your own becomes much easier. 

5. Sort Your Questions

After you’ve come up with a list of at least 10-15 generative questions in response to an artwork, you can then sort and evaluate them. Place a star next to the ones that are the most interesting, the most likely to create engagement and deeper insights. You can then take time to discuss one or all of these – either on your own if you’re doing the exercise individually or with a few colleagues. Working through the steps of this thinking routine with others, also helps to generate a list with a variety of perspectives other than that of your own. 

6. Generate Questions in Categories

Find an artwork and spend some time looking at it. After you’ve observed it for a good amount of time, challenge yourself to create a list of questions based on a specific category ONLY e.g. mood & personality, symbolism and meaning ,cultural and historical connections, similarities and contrasts. You can change up the categories each time. This will add to your repertoire of questions and will help you to feel confident about creating questions in all kinds of different categories.

7. Create a Question List and Improve your Questions

Give yourself a time limit to generate a list of questions about your chosen artwork. Then take your list of questions and WORK on them. You can change open questions to closed ones (and vice-versa), you can sharpen or soften your questions; you can check questions are neutral by checking for bias and so on. Maybe your questions are too complicated or sophisticated? Can you break them down into something simpler or less academic? 

8. Let your Eyes do the Work

Observe the artwork and let questions gently emerge. Tell yourself when you notice interesting features. You can also take notes as soon as you spot something interesting. Write down or think about all the questions have. Let the questions flow for as long as possible. When the flow stops: Look away, then look back, Close your eyes & reopen, Move to a different position. Then let more questions emerge. If you’ve been taking notes, look back at your questions afterwards and reflect. Did you notice any patterns or tendencies as you went through the process? Did the questions build upon one another? Did it get easier or harder to generate questions as you went along? How do you feel now about generating questions?

9. Start a Question Journal

Keep a question journal where you write down questions that you have found interesting or  ones that have worked well in art discussions or ones you want to use in future ones. Once you have a large set of questions you can start to categorise – I use a variety of categories – ‘introductory’, ‘interpretation’, ‘wondering’ ‘concluding’ and ‘reflecting’ and more. 

If you’d like to be taken step-by-step through the process of improving your technique with tools and exercises to help you consistently create, sort & evaluate your own brilliant questions (that will delight and engage your audience), take my masterclass How to Ask Brilliant Questions that Get Results. This class will equip you with a variety of techniques and skills that you can use to improve your questioning skills and techniques. Click on the button below to find out more. 

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