Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four to five 50-minute class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


Poetry and Art Home

Lesson Overview

Students interpret and analyze a photograph by the Japanese Surrealist Kansuke Yamamoto. They discuss how an artist can juxtapose different images to convey new meanings. In Yamamoto's photograph, they analyze how this juxtaposition of different images might symbolize suppression or confinement and then create a digitally manipulated photograph that conveys a time when they felt similarly. Finally, students analyze a translation of a Surrealist poem by Yamamoto and create a poem inspired by their photograph.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• interpret and analyze imagery in Surrealist photography and poetry.
• create a photograph conveying a personal experience of confinement through the juxtaposition of different images.
• use photo-editing software to digitally manipulate a photographic image.
• write a poem using Surrealist techniques that is inspired by their photographic works.


• Reproduction of I'd Like to Think While inside the Body of a Horse by Kansuke Yamamoto
• Student journals
• Student Handout: About the Artist: Kansuke Yamamoto
• Digital camera or camera phone
• Computer with photo-editing software (e.g., Adobe Photoshop)
• Inkjet printer
• Photo paper
• Student Handout: "Profond audjourd'hui" by Kansuke Yamamoto

Lesson Steps


1. Have students participate in a Surrealist collaborative drawing activity known as exquisite corpse. You can read about this Surrealist game on the Art Institute of Chicago Web site at

2. Inform students that Surrealism is a 20th-century movement of artists and writers who emphasized the role of the unconscious mind in creating literary and visual works. Their works were characterized by unexpected juxtapositions and fantastic or dreamlike imagery. You can read more about Surrealism on the Museum of Modern Art's Web site at

3. Tell students that they will discuss a work by the Surrealist photographer Kansuke Yamamoto.

Day One

1. Display a reproduction of I'd Like to Think While inside the Body of a Horse by Kansuke Yamamoto, and instruct students to take time to look at the photograph. Ask students to describe what they see and then discuss the work using the following questions:
• What is happening in the photograph?
• How would you describe the setting of the photograph?
• What do you notice about the figures? What are they doing? What are they not doing? What led you to respond that way?
• Consider the figures and the birdcage separately. Think about what each element may individually signify. For example, what does a birdcage call to mind (e.g., keeping birds from flying, feeling trapped, confinement)? What might images of walking figures evoke (e.g., going somewhere, movement)?
• Notice how Yamamoto juxtaposed imagery to create a unique photograph. Why would the artist place one of the figures in the birdcage? (Because the translucent figure seems to be walking within the cage, the figure seems trapped.)
• What kinds of moods are evoked (e.g., loneliness, directionless)?
• How does the artist convey the illusion of space in this photograph? (When compared to the translucent figure, the smaller figure seems farther away.)
• How does he distort perspective? What is the effect of this distortion? (The birdcage is enlarged in scale so that it can enclose the translucent figure.)
• What do you think the title, I'd Like to Think While inside the Body of a Horse, means? What title would you give this photograph?

2. Read the handout "About the Artist: Kansuke Yamamoto" aloud to the class, and ask students if their responses change given some background information.

3. Inform students that Yamamoto used the birdcage as a motif in several works of art. Tell them that the birdcage can often be a symbol for confinement and/or imprisonment. Ask students how the background information about Kansuke Yamamoto, including how the government suppressed his creative freedom, shapes how they view the work.

4. Ask students to think of a time when they felt constrained by someone, a larger group of people, or an institution. Have them write about this experience in their journals.

5. Tell students that they will compose their own photograph that conveys their experience. Tell students that, for homework, they should use a digital camera or camera phone to create two or three separate photographs of two or three objects or figures that relate to a memory of feeling constrained. Students could also include an original drawing as one component of their photocollage.

Day Two

1. Have students scan or upload their two or three images into a computer, and import them into a photo-editing software program. Similar to collage, prompt students to merge their images into one unique photograph using the photo-editing software. Encourage them to juxtapose the images in unexpected ways. Explain to students that Yamamoto would have altered his images in a darkroom, a room that could have been made dark especially for processing light-sensitive photographic materials. Now, with digital-imaging software, much of photo processing can be done on a computer.

2. Have students experiment with ways to digitally manipulate their photographs using, but not limited to, layers, opacity levels, differences in scale, color saturation, and brushes. Ask students what kinds of feelings, emotions, or meanings might they want to elicit in their photographs? Below is a list of links that will help you instruct students how to use Photoshop:

• Photoshop How-To: Merge Two Images for a Custom Collage:
• Layers Tutorials:
• Layer Opacity vs Fill in Photoshop:

You can find a variety of Photoshop tutorials here:

3. Encourage students to learn from each other and find more tips on YouTube and other Internet sources.

4. While students edit, prompt them with the question: How does your photograph reflect your experience? Have them respond to the following questions in their journals:
• What are the images you have chosen? What kind of significance do they have for you?
• How did you arrive at the particular juxtaposition of images?
• What kinds of decisions did you make when you made your photograph? Think about the picture compositionally, and what you digitally altered.
• What influenced you to make these decisions?

Day Three

1. Inform students that Yamamoto also wrote Surrealist poetry. Explain that Yamamoto's poetry, like his photographs, includes unexpected juxtapositions. Distribute the handout "Profond audjourd'hui" by Kansuke Yamamoto. Point out that they are reading an English translation of Yamamoto's poem and that there is always a potential for meanings to get lost in translation. Inform students that the poem was originally written in Japanese—except for the title, which was written in French. Since Surrealism originated in France, Yamamoto may have wanted to refer to the movement's origins.
Discuss the poem using the following prompts:
• Notice how the poet didn't write in complete sentences. How does that affect how you read and understand the poem (e.g., confusing, disconcerting, surreal, images flow from one to another)?
• Circle all the nouns in the poem. How did Yamamoto move from one noun to another? What types of words did he use to connect the nouns (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases)?
• Focus on the adjectives Yamamoto used to describe nouns in the poem. Which nouns were described in unexpected ways (e.g., tired pipe's/insides, dried laughter, clumsy/piano)? What is unexpected about these combinations?
• In both Yamamoto's poetry and photography, he played with the relationship or connection between different images. In his poetry, notice how he used "pivot words"—words that connect both the preceding and subsequent image. For example, "fluttering" can refer to both the "flowers" from the preceding line and the "wind's/diagonally/swaying/necktie." Where else can you find pivot words in the poem ("swaying" could refer to the wind or the necktie)?

2. Tell students that they will write poems about their own photographs. In their journals, students will list phrases describing each of the nouns in their photographs. Challenge them to select adjectives that are not commonly used to describe each noun. Once students have at least a dozen phrases, have them use the phrases in a poem. Encourage them to experiment with adding to, deleting, and reordering words and phrases. Students' poems must include at least one instance of "pivot words" to link two different nouns.

3. Lead a discussion about the techniques used in Yamamoto's poem and in the students' Surrealist poems using the following prompts:
• How is this poetry different from or similar to other poems we have discussed in class?
• How did you feel when challenged to write a Surrealist poem?
• Did you find it more or less challenging than other poems you've written? Why?

4. Randomly assign partners. Have student pairs share their photographs and poems with one another while interpreting each other's works. Prompt them with the following questions:
• By closely looking at and reading your partner's photograph and poem, what kind of imagery and digital techniques did he or she employ to convey his or her experience?
• How is juxtaposition used to combine images in unexpected ways?


1. Tell students that many Japanese Surrealists, including Yamamoto, frequently exhibited together in exhibitions that they collaboratively curated. Yamamoto often exhibited three to five photographs to form a photo story.

2. Divide your class into groups of five or six students, and have them work collaboratively to curate a visual narrative that incorporates each group member's photograph and/or poem. Have students think about how they would arrange their works on a large sheet of paper or classroom wall and what that arrangement can communicate when grouped together. For example, does the arrangement communicate a larger narrative, a message about youth today, or something about their school community?

3. As a class, discuss the differences and similarities between each group's visual narratives. Conclude with a class discussion on what students learned about different forms of confinement.


Students will be assessed on:
• class participation and contribution to discussions.
• the use of evidence to back up ideas when analyzing Kansuke Yamamoto's photograph and poem.
• their journal responses.
• the ability to communicate their intentions in a photograph.
• the ability to create unexpected juxtapositions of words and the inclusion of "pivot words" in original poems.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Grade 6

Speaking and Listening
SL.6.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
SL.6.2 Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.

Grade 7

Speaking and Listening
SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
SL.7.2 Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.

Grade 8

Speaking and Listening
SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Grades 9–12

Speaking and Listening
1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards

Grades 6–12

R.CCR.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
R.CCR.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
R.CCR.10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
W.CCR.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
SL.CCR.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 6
2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Create increasingly complex original works of art reflecting personal choices and increased technical skill.
2.5 Select specific media and processes to express moods, feelings, themes, or ideas.
2.6 Use technology to create original works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Construct and describe plausible interpretations of what they perceive in works of art.

Grade 7
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.3 Identify and describe the ways in which artists convey the illusion of space (e.g., placement, overlapping, relative size, atmospheric perspective, and linear perspective).

2.0 Creative Expression
2.6 Create an original work of art, using film, photography, computer graphics, or video.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Explain the intent of a personal work of art and draw possible parallels between it and the work of a recognized artist.
4.2 Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.

Grade 8
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Analyze and justify how their artistic choices contribute to the expressive quality of their own works of art.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.3 Create an original work of art, using film, photography, computer graphics, or video.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Examine and describe or report on the role of a work of art created to make a social comment or protest social conditions.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Develop a theory about the artist's intent in a series of works of art, using reasoned statements to support personal opinions.
4.3 Construct an interpretation of a work of art based on the form and content of the work.

Grades 9–12 (Proficient)
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

Grades 9–12 (Advanced)
2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Create original works of art of increasing complexity and skill in a variety of media that reflect their feelings and points of view.
2.4 Demonstrate in their own works of art a personal style and an advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion.
2.5 Use innovative visual metaphors in creating works of art.