The Frames

The many layers of meaning in an artwork are deconstructed by examining it through The Frames.  These frames are Subjective; Cultural; Structural; and Postmodern.  The frames operate in tandem with the conceptual framework, as students learn how each frame sets up different relations between artists, artworks, the world and the audience. Students learn that the frames provide alternative ways for interpreting and explaining meanings and why artists (including themselves) and audiences (including themselves, teachers, art critics, art historians and the general public) take on different points of view of what is of value, (N.S.W. Board of Studies, 7-10 Creative Arts Syllabus, N.S.W., 2003, p.24).

The Four Frames disaram, 7-10 Creative Arts Syllabus, N.S.W., 2003.
The Four Frames diagram, 7-10 Creative Arts Syllabus, N.S.W., 2003.

The Subjective Frame – personal and psychological experience: 
This frame allows the student to explore the feeling and deeper meaning that the artwork inspires in the viewer and what the artist intended. It is the me me me frame, and there is no right or wrong, as everything that is subjective is personally felt. Once students begin to understand this frame, it often becomes their favorite one as it allows them to talk about themselves.

The Cultural Frame – cultural and social meaning:
The cultural frame looks at the artist’s role with the artwork,.  The same exact artwork either produced by a little girl or a middle aged man will have different cultural meaning behind it.  The frame is also aligned with the world, in regards to the relationship of society and politics and communities and family and economies and identity and culture.  Everyone is shaped by their experience and conditions, and through the cultural frame the experience, conditions and the particular culture of the meaning of the artwork is examined. This is the frame where the social and political commentary of artworks are explored. This can be an exciting frame to explore issues of gender, diversity, science and the environment.  Find a cultural subject that is relevant to your class and use that as a ways to explore the frame.

The Structural Frame – communication and the system of signs:
How is the artwork structured?  What methods of communication have been used, the visual signs, to get the message across?  Is it a painting, video, or lithograph, or all three? What visual elements has the artist used to convey a message?  If the artist has used words, what language are the words? And on and on and on…. Like the game Jeopardy, at first you are describing the structure of the artwork in a series of questions – what colour is it? Etc Etc.  Then in the later Syllabus Stages, the questions and investigation delves a bit deeper – is that tungsten or LED lighting used in the studio? How did the artist achieve that affect with the paint?

The Postmodern Frame – ideas which challenge mainstream values of histories:
Now, should this be the post-postmodern frame? Where are we now? Are we in Po Po-Mo? That aside, the Po-Mo frame is the frame where the type of art is viewed in the art world context.  Where does the artwork fit into the historical timeline of art, be that a cubist or abstract artwork, and what is it saying about the art world?  What is the artworks grand narrative, is it making a satirical comment on politics?  Or is it appropriating another artists work, to mean something completely different?  Visualization diagrams of art history can help students identify the links and movements between the different artist styles, and why they were popular at the time in relation to the cultural frame, in regards to art history.  The Alfred Barr (first director of MOMA) map of modern art is a beautiful diagram of 50 years of art history.

Dust jacket with chart prepared by Alfred H. Barr Jr., of the exhibition catalog, Cubism and Abstract Art, by Alfred H. Barr Jr., 1936. Offset, printed in color; 10 1/8 x 7 3/4” (25.7 x 19.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Original image source:


The Frames