The Meaning of Home

Artists such as Carter Todd and James Dixon created artwork inspired by where they lived, but they combined different views of the place in one image—a bird’s-eye view of a street, for example, appears alongside a head-on view of a house. In art, this is called multiple perspectives.

In this two-part activity, students will experiment with perspective to explore the meaning of home.

Carter Todd (American, 1947–2004)
Untitled, 1982
Crayon and pencil on paper
8 3/8 × 10 3/8 in. (21.27 × 26.35 cm)
Gift of Anthony Petullo M2012.218
Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Part one: Ask students to think about the work of Carter Todd and James Dixon, which they saw in the Accidental Genius exhibition, and to brainstorm a list of different perspectives (i.e., bird’s-eye view, worm’s-eye view, head-on, etc.).

Note that these two artists were both interested in sharing their homes. Ask students to think about home: is home their house, their neighborhood has a whole, the school, a garden, a library, a church, or another place in their community? Where do they feel most “at home”? Individually, they should write down this place and all the words and memories they associate with it.

Now ask them to illustrate that place using different perspectives in the same sketch. Why might one perspective be more meaningful than another? (For example, I might choose to show my street from a bird’s-eye view, like a map, because it is universal to so many people, but my bedroom is just mine, so I sketch that head-on.)

Part two: Have students write a nonfiction prose work about the meaning of their home. Talk with them about perspectives in writing—that is, points of view. Students should use at least two different perspectives in their writing. The piece might be based on a specific memory, a feeling, or even a smell or taste that they associate with that place. They should use their brainstorming list of words and memories as well as their sketch to help inspire their writing.

James Dixon (Irish, 1887–1970)
Arlin Point, 1966
Oil, pencil, and ink on board
22 × 29 1/2 in. (55.88 × 74.93 cm)
Gift of Anthony Petullo M2012.34
Photo credit: Larry Sanders

This activity was loosely based on one shared in the Milwaukee Writing Project Writing Retreats.