Animals have been a source of inspiration for many artists. From art about rural life and growth, to myths and legends, animals are used in art in many different ways. Art can help us explore our relationship to wildlife and can help us think about how we care for animals and the environment.
Below we have some hands-on activities and questions to help you and your class discover animal artworks in the Tate collection. The artworks, questions and activities are suitable for KS1 and KS2 students.
A selection of animal artworks
Nature and the environment
When it comes to animals, exploring habitats is one of the central themes for artists. With a world of textures, colours and shapes to explore, nature is an exciting feature in many artworks.
Animals in artworks can make us consider our own relationship to nature. How do we treat wildlife and its environment? Are there some animals we look after more than others?
Animals live in a complex network of environments. This is called an ecosystem. Artists like to explore these ecosystems to tell stories. What kind of stories are the artists telling in the artworks below?
Under the sea
Here are some questions to think about with your class.
- What colours are associated with sea life? Why do you think that is?
- How would you describe the artworks above?
- How do the artworks above make you feel?
- What do you think these artworks sound like?
- What kind of animals live in rainforests?
- Describe the patterns that you can see in the artworks above.
- What materials are used to make the artwork above? What’s the difference between taking a photograph and making a collage?
- Look at the artwork by Spencer Gore. Is that place real? Why do you think he has chosen those colours? How do you feel when you look at this artwork?
- How important is it that animals in artwork look like real animals?
Habitats in danger
- In 100 years time, what do you think natural environments will look like? What will cities look like?
- What kind of events do you see happening above? Is there anything we can do to stop events like this happening?
- What colours and textures do you associate with natural environments compared to man-made environments?
- Why do you think the artists have made these artworks? What are they trying to say?
Out of nature
- What happens when we take animals out of their natural habitat? How does it change the way we look at them?
- Look at Damien Hirst’s artwork Away from the Flock. Why do you think he put the sheep in a box like that? What could it mean?
- In Zebra and Parachute there is an unusual collection of elements that makes it look surreal. How did that zebra get there? Could you write story about this artwork?
5 minute activity
What you will need
- Pencil crayons
- Write down lots of different habitats. Add them into a hat. Do the same for lots of different types of animals in a separate hat.
- Split your group into pairs.
- Get them to pick an animal and a habitat out of the hats.
- Get one to draw the animal and the other to draw the habitat
- Have them cut out the animal and stick it on their partners habitat
- Discuss what they have made. Does the animal belong there? If not, why not? What else could they add to that habitat?
30 minute activity
What you will need
- A4 paper
- Coloured paper
- Tissue paper
- Any natural objects (feathers, tree bark, shells, flowers)
- Get each pupil to create a collage based on a chosen habitat. Encourage them to play with colour, shape and different textures. Ask them to think about humans impact on the environment.
myths and legends
Mythical creatures have long been an inspiration for artists. The Ancient Greeks had tales of The Minotaur and Cerberus. Artist John Davie's creation Dogman is part dog, part human. Leonora Carrington uses her dreams to create surreal beasts. Can your class recognise any of these fantastical creatures?
Animals in stories
It's not just fantastical animals that feature in artwork. Animals are shown in art behaving like us humans! Activities like talking, knitting and wearing clothes are a few examples. Your class probably knows of children's stories where this is common, such as Peppa Pig! What traits would these animals have if they were human?
With these artworks, ask your class:
- Why would they use an animal instead of a human?
- What qualities do certain animals have?
- Can your class think of names for these creatures?
- What other creatures can they combine?
- What special abilities might they have?
5 minute activity
Get each child to sketch an image of a fictional beast. They can use their imagination or combine animals that already exist. You can even get them to name them and introduce their beast to the rest of the class.
- Why do artists make art about eggs? What can eggs represent?
- Look at the Joe Tilson's Mother Earth. Who is Mother Earth? Why is she a Mother rather than a Father?
- In Ai WeiWei's artwork Sunflower Seeds, the artist used millions of seeds to create his work. These seeds aren't real seeds though, they are made of porcelain. What do you think this artwork is about? Why didn't he use real seeds?
30 Minute Activity
What you will need:
- Masking tape
- Choose an animal
- Create a torso and different body parts by rolling up the newspaper
- Stick different animal parts together with glue and masking tape
- Once you have the shape completed, wrap each part of the whole animal in masking tape
- When dry, paint your sculpture