One Postcard

In my one to one class the other day, my student pulled this postcard out of her bag.

No to Contemporary Art # P4, 2006 by Patrick Guns ( Printed by

I immediately seized upon the image as I thought it was an arresting image and just the kind of thing I like to use with my students. It’s an ambiguous image, probably photoshopped, with a small amount of interesting language and with plenty of scope for investigation.

Below I’ve listed 41 different things you could say to your student(s) in response to this image.

1) What do you like and dislike about this image?

2) Who do you think made these signs?

3) Why did they make them?

4) Who are they aimed at?

5) Where was the picture taken?

6) Why do you think that?

7) Who are the people in the background?

8) Why are they there?

9) What do you think is written on the sign on the car in front?

10) Do you agree with the signs?

11) If you this was your sign, what would you write instead of contemporary art?

12) Why did the photographer take this photo?

13) Why was it turned into a postcard?

14) Rewrite the sign with new verbs.

15) Rewrite the sign and make it positive. What would you say yes to?

16) What do you think these people would say yes to?

17) Let’s practice the pronunciation of the words.

18) Let’s change the intonation. If we stress different words, does it change the meaning or intent?

19) How would you convince these people that contemporary art doesn’t suck (whether you agree with them or not)?

20) What do you understand by the definition contemporary art. Can you think of any examples?

21) Is contemporary art popular in your country?

22) Do you know the names of any other kinds of art? Which is your personal favourite?

23) Do you think contemporary art should be sponsored by public money?

24) Do you enjoy seeing art in public spaces, or do you think it’s a waste of money?

25) If you were artist, what kind of art would you make? Picture it in your mind and describe it to a partner / me.

26) Is protest popular in your country? What do people usually protest about?

27) Have you ever protested? If yes, what about? If not, what would it take to make you go out onto the streets?

28) Do you think that public protest is worthwhile or a waste of time?

29) How do you think it feels to be a police officer at a protest?

30) Is violence ever justified at a protest?

31) Do you think this picture is real?

32) Does it matter if it is real or not? Is authenticity important in art?

33) What do you think the photographer is trying to say with this image?

34) Why do you think the photograph is black and white and not colour?

35) Do you think this picture belongs in a gallery?

36) If you were going to send this postcard to someone, who would you send it to?

37) Write the postcard to that person.

38) Swap postcards with someone in the group and reply to their postcard, imagining that you are the person they have written to.

39) If you could interview the photographer, what would you ask him?

40) If you could interview the protesters, what would you ask them?

41) If you think it was photoshopped, what do you think was originally written on the sign?

Now I didn’t say all of these things to my student, that would be overdoing it a bit. In fact I probably chose less than ten and got a good 45 minutes of discussion and activities from them. All of these questions are perfectly valid responses to the image, however, so it’s just a case of picking and choosing which ones your students will engage with, or even better, ask themselves without prompting.

And each area of discussion can lead into its own area of discovery, whether that’s grammar, pronunciation and so on. I asked my student to exchange ‘contemporary art’ for another phrase on her own protest banner and she arrived on ‘female mutilation’ (with a little language help from me) which led to an interesting discussion, as you can imagine. A rather more serious suggestion than my own ‘cinnamon with apples’!

It’s amazing what you can come up with when you have an open mind, a willingness to be taught by the student(s) and the confidence to be flexible. All you need is one postcard.

For this and more great images in the No to Contemporary Art series, go to the artist’s website.


9 thoughts on “One Postcard

  1. I'm intrigued you think it is photoshopped. Why? Not sure I would put the thought into the students' minds.

  2. I didn't think it was photoshopped when I saw the original image, but when I looked at the website and I saw other versions on the same theme, I changed my mind.

    I think some students would assume that it was photoshopped immediately (my student did) and others wouldn't, so it would be interesting to play with their expectations. And if they don't, it could be interesting to introduce it further down the line. Questions 31,32 and 41 encourage critical thinking, something I'm always trying to do. Of course, it's all optional!

  3. I might also get students to reflect on the difference in meaning between 'modern' and 'contemporary'. As this protest stands, it is basically a protest against art that is representative of a given time period, rather than that of modern times.

  4. GREAT list!
    Certainly a great photo – I really enjoy discussions / activities triggered by a picture.
    Did you ask her why she purchased it and what she was thinking of when she decided to bring it to her English lesson?

  5. Hi James,
    Great list of questions, was it a 1-2-1 class.
    In a larger class would the students be able to come up with these questions themselves and then ask another group?
    Really good for a speaking exam preparation.
    Gareth @reasons4

  6. Thanks Naomi. We did discuss why she'd bought it (to send it to an artist friend) and it just happened to be in her bag at the time. In the end, she saw how much I liked it and gave it to me instead!

  7. Thanks Gareth. It was a 1-2-1 class and yes, ideally, the students would be able to come up with a lot of these questions themselves. Hopefully one or a few of these questions would act as a springboard to further discussion.

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