To explore this painting, gather with your loved one (in person or virtually, if possible) in a comfortable location where you can look together at a work of art. Note that you may want to play music on a computer or mobile device. Both the care partner and person with memory loss can then follow these conversation prompts:
- Start by observing the space you’re in. What do you hear and feel?
- Take a deep breath while taking in the work of art. As you exhale, let your eyes wander all over the composition quietly for at least a minute.
- Share: What stands out to you? What do you notice after more time has passed? Let this investigation go on for as long as possible. Pause frequently and let silences stretch out as you explore together.
- We think that the artist might have intended this painting to act as a symbolic self-portrait. If that is true, what might have been important to him, and what makes you think that?
- One of the pieces of sheet music pinned beneath the violin is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula. Opera enjoyed a surge in popularity at the time that this was painted, and this song was popular with amateur musicians.
Listen to a 1909 recording of the music as you look at the painting and consider: As you hear the music, do you notice anything new or different about the painting? Does the music fit the tone of the painting? Why do you think the artist might have picked this piece of music to include? Once the music has been played, share ideas.
- Take another look at the painting. What other thoughts and questions do you have?
While you’re working with the conversation prompts, try keeping these tips in mind:
- Allow very long pauses for looking and for articulating observations and ideas. Let silences stretch out, and stay completely in the moment.
- Let go of expectations and allow the exploration to go in any direction it takes you. Accept all comments and ideas without immediate correction. Feel free to share your own observations and ideas.
- Spend as much time as you can exploring the work of art before reading about it. We are all curious about the stories behind works of art, but the open-ended exploration of works is the most valuable part of this experience.
- Avoid asking participants to share memories that works of art might elicit, but welcome and embrace memories when they arise.
- The emotional tone of any experience may outlast the memory of it, so end on a high note.