Art in Quarantine Assignment

Like many of us, the sudden pivot to online and distance learning has inspired me to be more creative with assessments in the first year survey courses I am teaching this summer. For one particular assignment I am asking students to do their own Art in Quarantine challenge recreating works of art from our syllabus using themselves and objects from their own homes. Similar to the social media phenomenon first started by the Tussen Kunst und Quarantaine (in Dutch: “Between Art and Quarantine”) Instagram account and later taken up by other institutions like the J. Paul Getty Museum, this process forces learners to consider artistic concepts like form and composition while practicing close looking. Although I have used similar assignments in face-to-face classes, this exercise becomes particularly salient for students learning online from home as this contemporary moment dictates.

In March of this year Anneloes Officier, a Dutch woman, started the Instagram account @tussenkunstenquarantine to share images of people’s recreations of famous works of art made from household objects. Since most museums and galleries have closed due to the pandemic, these images form what Katy Kelleher calls in a New York Times article on the challenge, “a living archive of creativity in isolation.” By mid-April over 24,000 images had been posted with the hashtag #tussenkunstenquarantaine, with arts professionals from the Rijksumuseum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, the Getty, the Hermitage and countless others taking part, sometimes with their own rules and restrictions.

For our purposes I asked students to select a key work from four of our modules and recreate the image using themselves and/or objects from around their homes. A successful recreation requires them to closely look at the image and replicate elements of its form – colour, composition, pattern etc. and content – figures, gestures, themes, etc. In many ways this assignment is similar to Ellery Foutch’s work with tableau vivants where there is an “impetus for close looking, research, critical thinking, interpretation, and creativity, and an engagement in metacognitive and embodied experiences.”

Fun and engaging this assignment is an example of curricular alignment in which the course learning outcomes match the assessment and delivery of content. This is because I created it using Backward Design for Learning principles which results in a precisely defined assessment tools. For this first iteration, I did create a rubric to help me assess their learning but in the future I think I would design the marking scheme with the students, having them participate in determining the criteria for a successful recreation (Figure 2). Not only is this assignment an example of curricular alignment it also one that supports academic integrity. A concerns many instructors have in remote delivery is ensuring that students are submitting their own work. It is a low-stakes assignment worth only 5% per recreation making it one that does not put pressure on students to resort to plagiarism. I explain to them that it is possible for me to do a reverse images search to check their assignments, but more importantly I would like to foster an environment where they understand why completing their own original work and correctly crediting sources is imperative.

Another apprehension I had about teaching online was that I wouldn’t have the same relationships with students that I build in traditional face-to-face formats. I hoped that this assignment would be a way for us to build a more personal community. One way I thought I could contribute to a learning collective is to recreate a work myself. It would be a way for me to share more of myself with the students and also provide them with an example. Just before the semester started I choose to recreate Johannes Verspronck’s portrait of a Girl in a Light Blue Dress (1641) with my daughter Everly, who of course due to the pandemic was home with me (Figure 1). Fortunately we have a large Frozen costume collection but I struggled with the lighting, and my Everly struggled with the pose. These compositional challenges reminded me just how difficult it would have been for Verspronck and his colleagues to paint the children of Dutch burghers in the seventeenth century. I shared these reflections with the class and it lead to a critical discussion of portraiture and identity formation. My own experience re-creating a work of art was an important part of helping me think about this assignment.

Intitially I wanted to share one of my own responses to the Art in Quarantine Challenge as a way to provide and increase my presence as an instructor. Within the Community of Inquiry Framework, a social constructivist model of learning processes developed for online and blended environments, there are three interrelated dimensions to the learning experience. One is social presence or the community built through relationships, another is cognitive presence sustained reflection and discourse, and finally teaching presence  is the design and facilitation of achieving learning outcomes. What better way for theme to get to know me more too. I think it also demonstrates that I am looking, thinking, and practicing alongside them. What I hadn’t anticipated when I first designed this assessment was how useful it would be in encouraging the social presence for our course.  It truly has been a tool for as Lindita Bektashi describes, encouraging “participants to identify with the community, communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities.”  In addition to submitting their work to me to grade, I am also encouraging students to post their images to the our learning management system’s lightbox or even share on their blog. This assignment and how students share their creations with each other is an example of community of practice. The original Art in Quarantine social media challenge started from a desire to connect people during a global pandemic that was closing museums and galleries. Artists, curators, scholars, and a wide variety of people have participated. This assignment connects learners to a larger network of practitioners, or community of practice.

Early feedback from learners is overwhelmingly positive. One student wrote “As an artist myself, I enjoyed learning about the technical creation and application that was required” by the assignment. Another wrote, “The Art in Quarantine [activity] was very fun to do, and got me to think creatively again.” It is early in the semester of our new normal of teaching and learning online and I have already been amazed by the Art in Quarantine assignments students are submitting. Regardless of what classrooms look like in the future I am confident my own pedagogical practices will be forever shaped by what I learned during my time between art and quarantine.


Alena Buis is an Instructor and Chair of the Department of Art History and Religious Studies at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓-Langara College in Vancouver British Columbia. She has an MA in Canadian Art History from Concordia University (Montreal) and a PhD in Visual and Material Culture from Queen’s University (Kingston). Her recent research focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning for art history (So-TLA). As a research fellow with the Open Education Group, she is interested in the impact of open educational resources on the cost of education, student success outcomes, patterns of usage, and perceptions of OER. Buis is one of the founders of Open Art Histories (OAH) a platform for art, art history, visual art, and museum studies teachers and instructors in Canada. Open to anyone who uses visual and material culture in their pedagogical practices, OAH offers a dynamic and collaborative space for Open Education Resources (OERs), and serves as a virtual community and repository for art and art history instructors at all stages of their academic and professional careers.

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