Karen Ann Hoffman

Lesson: Engaging with Art

You can approach any piece of art with three simple questions. When you look at something, just ask yourself: What is it? What’s it made of? What does it make me think? For the third question, there’s no right answer. There’s no wrong answer. You don’t even have to have an answer. You’re free to think whatever you want to think. 

– Karen Ann Hoffman, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin

Theme: Innovation
Learning Objective: Students will look at a work of art, ask questions, and build responses to engage with the work on a deeper level.

Background Information

Karen Ann Hoffman, like most artists, understands that not everyone is going to like the art she creates – and that’s okay! Artists create work for many different reasons, they use a wide variety of media and techniques, and depict countless subjects in many different styles. Viewers also bring their own personal experiences, likes and dislikes to the work they see whether it’s in a museum or hanging on a refrigerator door. Some people like contemporary abstract art with bold colors, others prefer photorealistic landscape scenes, and some may think they don’t like any art at all. One preference is not better than another, but taking time to think and talk about artwork can lead to new ideas and connections with art.

Studies show that, generally, people only spend 15-30 seconds looking at a work of art. That doesn’t always give enough time to truly see the piece. At first glance, what looks like a group of people moving from one place to another is actually an impromptu baseball game. Small carvings in a piece of wood appear as just that, but also tell what plants to use for various medicines. If you spend a little more time in front of an artwork, these and many other stories are revealed.

red velvet pouch with floral beadwork


Karen Ann suggests using three simple questions when approaching a piece of art.

  1. What is it?
  2. What is it made of? (paint, clay, stone, fabric, etc.)
  3. What does it make me think?

The answers to these questions will vary from person to person and will likely change over time. But, by using these and other simple questions as a starting point, you can look at and talk about any piece of art!

You can do the following exercise alone or with a partner.

First, take a few minutes to look at the photo of Flame Urn by Karen Ann Hoffman. Be sure to zoom in so you can see the details. Then, ask the questions listed above. After spending some time with Karen Ann’s work, turn your attention to Land of Origin by James Lavadour, and ask the same questions.

How were your responses alike for each piece? How were they different? If working with a partner, were their responses similar or different than your own? How? Did you prefer one work of art over the other? Why?



Words you need to know


A style of art that does not look like real life.


A style of art that creates the same level of detail as a photograph.


A style of art that creates the same level of detail as a photograph.

All Lessons By Karen Ann