During Fall 2020, if you can’t visit the Johnson, we want to come to you! These virtual icebreakers, community builders, and socialization starters are ideal for your virtual Museum group activity, class, or seminar. Explore the many images of artwork in the Johnson’s collection online at emuseum.cornell.edu.

Collection Coloring Book

Relax and experiment! Favorites from across our permanent collection have been adapted for coloring by Sabrina Haertig ’22, the Summer 2020 Nancy Horton Bartels ’48 Scholar for Education at the Johnson. Download the PDF here.

Two-Person Drawing

Designate one person as the observer and the other as the listener. The observer choses a work of art that they must hide from their partner before the activity starts. Using Zoom or social media, the observer describes the work to the listener and the listener tries to draw it based on the description alone. The listener cannot ask questions, and the observer cannot see the drawing during this process! When finished the pair can discuss the artwork together, noting how assumptions and language choices led to effective communication or misunderstanding, then share with the group.

What's My Title?

Small groups can brainstorm an image caption in reaction to artwork selections and vote on the funniest or most clever ones! This exercise can progress from silly to serious, and groups can search for Museum artworks that relate to key concepts from a class. This is a good exercise to practice looking, reacting, and verbalizing ideas.

Here are a few interesting, fun, odd, and even creepy images in the Johnson’s collection on eMuseum. Tell us which inspired you!

Partner Portraits

Draw a quick portrait of a partner using only ten lines. Now try five lines. Can you do it in three lines?

In a blind contour (French for “outline”) drawing, an artist creates a line drawing of a subject without looking down at the paper. In a pair, choose who will pose (sitter) and who will draw (artist). The sitter makes a facial expression based on their current mood. The artist makes a blind contour drawing of the sitter’s head, only spending about ten minutes, keeping their pencil on the paper and their eyes only on the sitter. Don’t look down at the paper until the drawing is complete! Discuss the drawing when finished, and then share them without names for the class or your group to analyze and try to identify. What elements help identify the sitter? Once identifications are made, have the group discuss the process together.

Contour drawings in the Johnson’s collection (1, 2, 3, 4)

Portrait Through Objects

Get to know your group by asking them (and yourself) to make a self-portrait—not by depicting how they look, but by creating a composition of objects that are meaningful to them or express a special detail. What do the objects you’ve selected say about you, and what do people learn about you by viewing them? This can be an impromptu activity or something that is prepared beforehand and shared to a class blog for discussion.

Muse to Maker

Artist Cindy Sherman creates photographs of herself dressed as different characters. She is both in front of and behind the camera, acting as model, stylist, and photographer. Think about a character from a story, movie, TV show, or history. Then look around your house and see what kinds of clothes and props will transform you into that person. Then try out different poses in front of a mirror. Choose a setting or location where you imagine your character in action—you could even make your own background. Take a photograph of yourself, capturing a few poses and expressions. What do they reveal about your chosen character?

Get Surreal

Surrealism was born as a literary movement merging internal psychological processes with real life. André Breton, the founding member of the surrealists and seated here at the head of the table, was inspired by Freud’s theory of the subconscious. In depicting the surrealists, William Klein created a surrealist image himself: smartly dressed Parisians around a dinner table where the only meal visibly available involves consuming the model of a human being.

Play like the surrealists! Fold a standard (8.5 x 11 inch) piece of paper in half horizontally. Write your name in cursive along the fold, then reflect all the lines over the horizontal axis. Use your imagination to turn the resulting shape into a monster that you feel captures your personality!

Take the idea further and play the Exquisite Corpse drawing game invented by André Breton—learn how to do it here.