Friday, September 28, 2007

NMActivity: Mystery Texture Box

Activity Overview
As an element of design, texture is an important component of any art object, but one of the more difficult elements to analyze because it can be either real—as in the actual feel of a surface area (e.g. encaustic, impressionist oil paint strokes, or impasto [in which paint is applied so heavily that it feels, or would feel, rough to the touch]), or implied—as in the appearance or illusion of texture on a flat surface (e.g. the appearance of texture in a watercolor painting). Real texture is the appearance and the actual feel of an object’s surface. Implied textures simulate real texture by changing values, shapes, and lines. After using only their sense of touch to explore the real textures of objects in a “mystery box,” guests will use language arts and vocabulary skills to describe the textures of the objects in the “mystery box,” and then use their newfound language to discuss the texture—real or implied— of a work of art in a gallery.

Learning Objectives
Students should be able to:

  • Define texture
  • Explain the difference between real and implied texture in a work of art
  • Explain how texture affects the meaning, mood, or expression in an artwork


  • Mystery box or bag (opaque, such that guests can’t see through it)
  • Varied materials: gourds, tufa, rocks, tulle, velvet, sandpaper, feathers, foil, metal

Activity Steps
Pass the “mystery box” around the gallery, and invite guests to reach into the box (without looking) and feel the objects inside. Ask guests to choose one of the objects in the box, making sure they know not to pull it out of the box, feel it, and then pass the box along to the next person. Ask guests to use words to describe the texture of the “mystery box” object on which they had settled. Record their responses on paper, or by noting responses in a call-and-response format, and discuss the descriptive language used to describe the objects. Ask guests to speculate about what the object in the box might be. Explain that texture in artwork can be described using similar language.

Invite guests to sit in front of a work of art and to study it for a few moments. Then ask the group to use words to describe the texture—whether real or implied—of the artwork. If guests seem unsure of their ability to give the “right answer,” assure them that any response will be helpful, and ask directed questions to help them respond, such as:

  • What words would you use to describe the texture of the rocks in this painting?
  • How does the artist create the texture of the snow in this painting?
  • Does the material in the figure’s dress look soft or stiff in the painting of the dancer?
  • Does the basket look like it would feel smooth or rough? Why?

Talk about the artist’s use of materials in a work of art, and their use of tools in the application of texture. For example, invite guests to touch “Two Bears” downstairs in the lobby, and use the opportunity to discuss how the artist created the texture of the bears’ fur. Invite guests to speculate about what tools Maynard Dixon or Lovell Birge Harrison might have used to apply paint to their paintings “Sand Hill Camp” (Sierra Nevada / Great Basin Gallery) or “The Loggers” (E.L. Wiegand Gallery), respectively.

Review the objectives of the activity with guests at the conclusion of the tour. Ask them what they have learned during their time in the museum. Review the elements and principles of design, the definition of texture, its uses, and the idea that texture can be explained using descriptive language, especially adjectives.