The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is an interdisciplinary nexus and laboratory where students and scholars can investigate, explore and test knowledge. Confronted with a different kind of source material—objects and images rather than text—viewers are challenged to consider concepts and issues in a new way. Visual literacy is an increasingly important skill and an essential component of a 21st-century education. By providing the necessary tools and experiences to critically consider visual culture we empower students and scholars to search out their own answers. We encourage you to explore the tabs above and the activities listed below for ideas. For more about visual literacy, explore “How Do You Look?

The museum’s academic program staff work one on one with faculty to design tours of exhibitions and collections in storage, lesson plans, assignments and installations that complement courses. To discuss the possibilities for your classes or research, contact Marianne Wardle, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs, at marianne.wardle@duke.edu or 919-684-5203, or Erin Hanas, Academic Program Coordinator, at 919-684-8067 or erin.hanas@duke.edu


The Nasher Museum offers classrooms and a lecture hall for teaching. All spaces are fully equipped with advanced AV capabilities. For use in connection with a class tour, please contact Erin Hanas, Coordinator of Academic Programs, at 919-684-8067 or erin.hanas@duke.edu.

The University Registrar schedules the classrooms and lecture hall for semester-long use, and requests for those spaces should be made through the Registrar’s office.  NOTE: these spaces are available only during the museum’s business hours (daily 10 am – 5 pm). If you copy Marianne Wardle (marianne.wardle@duke.edu) on your request we can also reinforce it with the Registrar’s office.

To reserve the University Classroom or Lecture Hall for a special event, please contact Kathleen Wright, Special Events Coordinator, at 919-684-3321 or kathleen.wright@duke.edu. Get more information on the Event Rental page by scrolling all the way to the bottom under Meeting Spaces at the Museum.


The following ideas can be adapted to a wide range of course themes and critical issues:

Caption It

Students identify works that illustrate key concepts from class (this is about looking and reacting, not finding a right answer). They write a headline and an image caption to explain the connection. Students present their captions in small groups and select one to present to the class. The class identifies the work and caption they feel best illustrates the concept. Excellent for test conceptual understanding and application.

What’s Your Issue?

Instructors identify issues explored in the course and choose corresponding artworks from the collection. Small groups are given an issue and relevant background material on the artwork. The students must discuss their issue in relation to the image or object and formulate a short presentation. Images can be provided for class presentations or students could come equipped with a camera. Excellent for issues-based courses or intermediate language levels.

Token Response

Students are given cards with icons to signify a variety of responses to art or a particular theme (love/hate/confusion, agree/disagree) and are asked to place icons in front of works that elicit a response. Works that gain the most responses, or the greatest variety of responses, become the subjects of discussion as students explain their choices. Excellent to practice critical viewing skills and translating the visual into the verbal. Language courses: good for conversation and practicing the subjunctive.

Find and Seek

Students choose a work of art and write a short descriptive paragraph about it. They then exchange descriptions with a partner and must locate the other work in the gallery. When they find the correct work, they write their own response. Excellent for visual analysis, translating the visual to the verbal, and visual critique. Language students are required to practice vocabulary, grammar and expressing emotions and preferences.

Consider the Context

Students choose an artwork and, relying on close visual examination, consider their personal response (how they feel about the work and why they think that is) and the relationships between the art and its setting (what other works are displayed nearby, what are the relationships between them?). After reading the object label or background information, they evaluate how the work relates to its time period, cultural movement or a critical issue. They share their responses with classmates. Helpful for exploring opinion versus fact, and applying critical concepts to visual material.


Explore multiple viewpoints in a variety of ways and practice respectful discourse and dialogue.

  • Choose one work of art for all students to write short personal responses (250 words). After sharing, they comment on one other’s perspectives, discussing commonalities and differences in approaches.
  • One theme or concept is chosen and students are assigned to find a work of art they feel best expresses or elaborates on that topic. (This is a good way to test their mastery of the concept and critical thinking skills by asking them to apply it in a different medium than typically used in class, i.e. textual analysis.) Group discussion focuses on the variety of choices and possible differences in interpretation.
  • Students each choose one work of art and write multiple short responses from a variety of views or utilizing different methodologies through the course of the semester (i.e. descriptive/ekphrastic, aesthetic, historical, personal, narrative, feminist, Marxist, semiotic, etc.).

Back to Back Drawing

Students are paired as viewer and listener. Viewers select a work of art  and guide the listener to a position where they cannot see the work. The viewer describes the work while the listener attempts to draw it from the description. The listener is not permitted to ask for clarification, and the viewer is not allowed to see the drawing until time is up. Then the students evaluate the drawing together considering misconceptions and misunderstandings, assumptions and language choices. Excellent as a communication exercise, exploring visual language and description, and practicing foreign language skills.

Treasure Hunt

Students hunt for works by following clues and a map. To get the next clue, they must answer questions about the works they locate. Excellent for developing viewing skills and cooperative efforts. Language application: developing vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing.

Foreign Language Activities

The Nasher Museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions offer many opportunities to strengthen foreign language skills. The activities listed above can all be utilized in this context. Below are additional ideas and examples made specifically with language courses in mind:

  • Label Translation: Students pick any work of art on display with a label and translate it. This exercise encourages close looking and increases vocabulary.
  • Writing Labels: Students pick a work of art either on display or in Study Storage and write an original label for it. Labels can be edited by the instructor and re-written for content and grammar.
  • Creative Writing: Students select an artwork on display or in Study Storage that will serve as the subject of a creative essay or final paper. The paper can be worked on throughout the semester and edited as new tenses and vocabulary are taught in class.
  • Vocabulary Building: Instructors provide students with vocabulary lists for specific artworks on display, which they then have to identify, OR students select a work of art and make their own vocabulary list and then discuss the image with the class using those words, OR students are given the vocabulary list for a particular artwork and then have to write a short description/paper/label using some or all of the words.
  • Translation of Art: Many images in the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection contain foreign text. Students can translate the text and consider how it enhances the image’s meaning (or vice-versa).
  • Description/Imagination: Students work with one image in the galleries or Study Storage. With a partner, they write down a basic description of the work, including colors, forms, subject matter, etc. Afterward, they write down what they think the image is about. When each group has finished, they present their descriptions and thoughts to the class. A great way to develop close-looking skills, vocabulary, comfort in speaking to a partner and large group, and the use of subjunctive in order to express an idea or opinion.
  • Mini-presentations: In advance of the class visit, the instructor collaborates with academic program staff to create a list of works from the museum that relate to the course topic. The instructor presents the list to the students, who each select a work of art to research. For the museum visit, whether in Study Storage or the gallery, students give a mini-presentation to the class on their artwork. Excellent for developing writing and oral presentation skills, and for learning more about the target culture. 

Collection Research

Only a small portion of the museum’s permanent collection is on view at any time, so a variety of tools are available to help you explore the Nasher’s artworks, whether currently on view or in storage.

View the online database of our collection.

Information about artworks in a range of media, styles, periods and cultures can be found at our new website promoting visual literacy How Do You Look?


The Nasher Museum’s Study Storage offers faculty and students up-close experience with works of art not currently on view in the exhibition pavilions. Facilities include works on paper with more than 3,000 prints and drawings; painting storage with works from the Renaissance to the present; and object storage with Greek and Roman pottery and glass, Ancient American ceramics and African and European Medieval and Renaissance sculpture and artifacts. 

A wide range of departments have visited Study Storage including

  • Art, Art History & Visual Studies
  • Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
  • Classical Studies
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Dance
  • Duke Divinity School
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Foreign Languages
  • History
  • Kenan Institute for Ethics
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Thompson Writing Program
  • Theater Studies
  • Women’s Studies

To arrange a visit to Study Storage contact Erin Hanas, Coordinator of Academic Programs, at 919-684-8067 or erin.hanas@duke.edu. Most visits to storage take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 10am and 5pm.

Please note that all visitors are requested to leave bags and backpacks in the lockers by the Lecture Hall when they arrive. Only pencils are allowed for use in the exhibition pavilions and Study Storage and no food or drinks are permitted in these areas.

Study Storage is a gift of Christine and Pierre Lamond and Alice Martin Whelihan.