HOW TO USE ARTWORKS TO IMPROVE YOUR QUESTIONING SKILLS

SUMMARY

How can you improve your questioning skills without resorting to reading long lists of tips and techniques and do’s and don’ts?
What can you use to help you create, sort and evaluate better questions?
The simple answer is: ART.
I’ve been using artworks for years to help me to brainstorm, sort, re-word and improve my questions.
Artworks (and objects) provide an engaging and focused way to work on your questioning skills.
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. But by using artworks, I really enjoy the process too.
In today’s episode I’m going to share with you some practical ways you can use art as a tool to become a better questioner!

INTRODUCTION 

I think that the ability to ask good questions is one of the most useful skills you can have.
You can instantly engage people, provoke curiosity, find out what people already know and solve problems.
But how good are you at asking questions, really? And, when was the last time you spent some time working on improving your questioning skills?
If you Google ‘how to improve my questioning skills’ the first results you will see are lists or tips. Lists of ‘things you can do to improve your questioning skills.
Lists are all well and good (although quite dull) and you may retain some of the suggestions, but they don’t actually get you to sit down and WORK on your questioning skills.
These kind of ‘what to do/what not to do’ lists are not going to be of practical help to you in creating, generating and sorting better questions. You need to learn by doing. By brainstorming, sorting, evaluating, re-wording and improving your questions.
So, enter artworks.
Artworks (and objects) provide an engaging and focused way to work on your questioning skills, because they:
* Foster curiosity
* Help us observe
* Provide a stimulus
* Spark creativity
I’ve been using artworks for years to help me to brainstorm, sort, 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. But by using artworks, I really enjoy the process too.
Artworks (and objects) provide an engaging and focused way to work on your questioning skills. In today’s episode I’m going to share with you some practical ways you can use art as a tool to become a better questioner!

CHOOSE AN ARTWORK THAT PROVOKES CURIOSITY

First of all, you want to choose an artwork that provokes curiosity in you.
Look at websites like Wikiart and scroll through their artworks of the day until you come across something that interests or intrigues you.
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. You don’t even have to like it.
It might be something that puzzles you or you have questions about. Or choose something you want to understand better – this is the time to do it!
Choose something that is detailed and deserves close-looking. These are all great things to take into consideration when choosing an artwork to use to help you improve your questioning technique.
Once you’ve chosen the artwork here are a number of activities that you can do with the artwork to work on your questions. First of all, we’re going to talk about using artworks to generate or create a list of questions. You can do this in a number of ways. The first is question-storming.

USING ARTWORKS TO GENERATE QUESTIONS

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 time, 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 generation 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 your questions. Volume of questions is the priority here.
TIP: There are a variety of ways to question-storm – use thinking routines See Think Wonder, See Wonder Connect and Think Puzzle Explore, or try 10 in 10 (thinking up 10 questions in 10 minutes).
USE QUESTION STEMS
If you want an alternative to brainstorming a list of questions, try using a list of question stems or question starts 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.
SLOW LOOKING QUESTION GENERATION
You can also use slow looking to generate a list of questions as we have talked about in previous episodes.
Spend some time observing 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.
Then start to 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 or close your eyes & reopen. You can also move to a different position or zoom in on a detail. Then let more questions emerge.
GENERATE QUESTIONS IN CATEGORIES
You can also use an artwork to generate questions in categories.
After you’ve observed your artwork for a good amount of time (anything from 2-5 minutes for beginners, 5-10 mins for more experienced slow lookers), 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.
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 generation. A provocation is a statement that stirs thought, wonder, engagement, curiosity and, obviously, questions.
Adding a provocative statement or, even using the title of the artwork to provide inspiration, will help you brainstorm more questions, and, even better, more powerful 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 about another question. Think ‘Modern art is rubbish’ or ’What is art’ as provocative statements.

WORK ON YOUR QUESTIONS

After you’ve used your artwork to come up with a list of questions through any of the activities I’ve just mentioned, you can then work on your questions and evaluate and reflect on them. There are a number of different ways to do this.
First of all, take a look at your list of questions. How many questions did you generate? Does this surprise you? Is it more or less than you expected? Was the exercise harder or easier than you expected? Thinking about these questions will lead to valuable insights about how you feel about your questioning skills.
OPENING & CLOSING QUESTIONS
I’ve talked in the past in detail about the differences about open-ended and closed questions and when it’s good to use these different types of questions.
In summary, close-ended questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or with a one-word or brief answer. Open-ended questions require more explanation and open up the discussion.

Go through your list, identify your questions as close-ended or open-ended by marking them with a ‘C’ or an ‘O’

How many did you have of each question? Does that surprise you?

Take one open question and turn it into a closed question. Take one closed question and turn it into an open one.

Just by opening and closing a question, it can completely transform it. It might change the effect the question has or the information it elicits. Have a go and see what happens. This will also help you to improve your ability to generate these different types of questions.
There are other ways you can work on your question list too:

SHARPEN OR SOFTEN

You can sharpen up or soften your questions. Think about  how your question might come across to someone – it helps to read it out loud!

CHECK FOR BIAS

You can check questions are neutral by checking for bias. You can also look for any leading questions that you may have written down and change them into a more neutral option. 

SIMPLIFY

Maybe your questions are too complicated or sophisticated? Can you break them down into something simpler? Or less academic? 

COMBINE

Take a look at your list of questions and see if any of them can be combined – maybe combining two questions will result in one improved question.
STAR YOUR QUESTIONS
You can also sort and evaluate your list by simply placing a star next to the ones that you find the most interesting, or the most likely to create engagement and deeper insights.
You can then take time to discuss one or all of these questions– either on your own if you’re doing the exercise individually or with a few colleagues. By the way, working on your questioning skills with others, also helps to generate a list with a variety of perspectives other than that of your own.
REFLECT ON THE PROCESS
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?

💡TIP: 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.

HOW TO ASK BRILLIANT QUESTIONS MASTERCLASS

If you’re interested in improving your questioning skills and would like to be taken step-by-step through the process, you can also take my special 90 minute recorded masterclass with a range of tools and guided exercises to help you consistently create, sort & evaluate your own brilliant questions
In this class:
✔️Learn about the different types of questions and when to use them
✔️Learn simple yet powerful ways to generate, formulate, sort and evaluate questions in response to prompts, artworks and images
✔️Learn to analyse, track & reflect on your own questions, turn closed into open questions (and vice versa)
✔️Finally you will learn new thinking routines, techniques and activities that you can use regularly to perfect your questioning technique
When you purchase this class, you will receive a link to the recording and all the resources (class workbook, slides and PDFs) that go with the class. The class is packed full of exercises for you to do and practical examples.
HOW TO ASK BRILLIANT QUESTIONS MASTERCLASS