Your art and art history students need access to images to support their studies, whichever course and curriculum they’re following, whether A Level Art, IB Diploma Programme Visual Arts, Cambridge International A Level Art and Design, or any another. An appreciation of their importance in this context is a given, but images are not just crucial for art and art history – they play an increasingly important role across the curriculum.

Image showing two graphs. At the top the title says 'percentage of visual learners'. The graph on the left is a semi-circle showing a blue slice up to 65% with the caption '65% General population. The graph on the right is a semi-circle showing a red slice up to 85% with the caption '85% School-aged children'.

It’s reported that around 65% of the population are visual learners, and that figure estimated to rise to 80-85% for school-aged children. Although at a basic level, visual literacy is about having the ability to create and understand visual content, the development of these skills benefits language, communication, and interaction. Importantly, visual literacy helps students strengthen both their imagination and critical thinking skills.

A research paper published in About Campus discovered that using visual thinking strategies in the classroom helps students build visual literacy skills from as young as 4 or 5. By using discussions of imagery to build language and thinking skills, students are able to debate complex ideas, disagree civilly, and build on ideas presented by others.

Have you heard of the Pictorial Superiority Effect?

Experiments looking at human memory discovered that if someone shows you a related picture at the same time as telling a story, you’re far more likely to remember the story later. John Medina’s Brain Rules suggests that adding an image to information means the reader will retain 55% more of it.

However, because images and media attract our attention, their use must add to the information and not detract from it. Images that don’t support content may cause confusion by adding unnecessary complexity.

Introducing Artstor

A graphic of a computer screen showing a screenshot of the Artstor homepage.

Artstor, accessed via the JSTOR platform, is the most extensive image resource for educational use. With over 2,000 high-quality images organised into 300 collections, the images cover a wide array of subjects with the breadth and depth to add context to all studies. Teachers can incorporate images from, for instance, Native American art from the Smithsonian, treasures from the Louvre, and panoramic, 360-degree views of the Hagia Sophia in this one, easy-to-use resource.

There are collections that cover the American Museum of Natural History for history lessons, Fabian Tracts from LSE for economics, and History of Science at Hope College for science. The images themselves show religious iconography and ceremonial objects for religious studies lessons, culture around the world for social studies classes, and global buildings for geography. In fact, Artstor can be used across so many subjects, there’s an online guide. With examples of photography, famous paintings, and museums around the world, there truly is a piece of art for every lesson.

Using images in teaching

Knowing the importance of using images as a learning aid, how can you use them in your teaching? Here’s three ideas that you can incorporate into your classrooms using images found on Artstor.

Activity 1: Show & Tell

An image of a man in a mask standing in a dirt circle. In the background an audience has gathered. The image is ‘masks greet guests in the village’ from the Christopher Roy: African Art and Field Photography collection via JSTOR.

Find a high-interest image. For example, ‘masks greet guests in the village’ from the Christopher Roy: African Art and Field Photography collection could work in a human geography class exploring African art and culture. Display the image without its title and get your students to think about the image and come up with any questions they might have about the image. Then, see if they can answer their own questions, or get them to swap and answer each other’s! You could even show several pictures from the same collection separately, and then some more together to see whether they come up with similar or different questions. This helps students take meaning from images and understand what they’re looking at, boosting their visual literacy skills.

Activity 2: Connections

Provide four images without their identifying information and see if students can find the connection. You could try this in many ways, from simple connections such as ‘all these buildings have a tower’ (as in the example below using images from the Brian Davies: Architecture in Britain collection) to more complex connections that look at the environment around the main image subject such as ‘all of these photographs were taken on a mountain’. By doing this, not only are learners understanding what they’re looking at, but they’re also improving their language skills by describing it. This task even works as homework – why not try getting your students to bring back four images to the class and get the rest to guess the connection?

A long image showing four photographs of buildings. From left to right, the buildings are: University of Glasgow main building, Queen's Tower at Imperial College, Kelham Hall, and Girton College at the University of Cambridge. All images via JSTOR.

Activity 3: Guess the context

This could work for several subjects! Zoom in close on an image and show your students. Ask them to guess what the image is, using any visual clues they can pick up on. Next zoom out a little bit further and ask them again. You could try pointing out contextual clues as they appear the first few times you do this exercise and encourage them to find their own afterwards. See how many times you need to zoom out before someone gets the image. The example below, Evacuation of Japanese Americans from the Kruska Japanese Internment Collection would work excellently in a history lesson.

A long image showing progression from a very close zoomed in image through four iterations to the full image. The image is Evacuation of Japanese Americans from the Kruska Japanese Internment Collection via JSTOR.

So, why spend money when Google images are free?

A graphic showing a computer screen, laptop screen, and tablet, all open to different features of the Artstor website. The computer shows the Artstor website. The laptop shows the image viewer. The tablet shows a PowerPoint presentation.

Artstor images are high quality and presented in a special image viewer, so showing them on a large screen in a classroom isn’t going to cause any issues, meaning your students can get the most out of what they’re looking at. They can examine and compare every detail of up to 10 images up close, with no loss in quality. Artstor also has a wealth of tools available for teaching and learning. You can automatically create fully captioned PowerPoint presentations with multiple images or create image groups that can be accessed and shared between teacher and student. And, just like JSTOR, you can instantly generate and download citations.

Added to this, all images are copyright-cleared for educational use, so any images you use in the classroom, or students use in their work, won’t flout any violations. You can even print them to display around school!

Interested in finding out more about Artstor? Head to our webpage or sign up for a free trial, and discover how it can improve your students’ visual literacy.


All images via JSTOR