The Story of a Painting

Art is an amazing portal through which history, world cultures, science, and even math can be explored.  While an art piece may only capture a single moment in time, the imagery, details, and artistic choices can tell a much larger story. If one looks closely enough, one could learn so much through a single piece of artwork. Take the John Gast piece, “American Progress”, for example.  This painting tells the story of the westward expansion that, while quite unrealistic in nature, shows many features of this important historical event in the 19th century. gast-pg Take note of the virtual historical compilation of transportation technologies: the Native American travois, the Pony Express, and the railroad.  The painting shows not only the passage of time, but the inevitable nature of technological progress as well. Also notice the groupings and placement of the people embodied in the painting.  Moving from left to right you will see the first groups are the Native Americans, followed by the prospectors, and eventually the farmers and settlers.  The movement of the individuals from east to west is also telling of the settlement of the North American region. And of course, there is the female figure floating above them all which sparks conversation of another historical view of this painting.  It is assumed that she embodies the vision of American destiny, with a book in one hand…an emblem of education and enlightenment, and the wires of the telegraph in the other…a sign of progress throughout the land.  What initially looks only like a painting of people moving across the plains is now, after examination, a detailed account of an important aspect of American history.  Art, while often static, can tell a dynamic story, and can play an important role in teaching our young people about the world around them.

Starting in early April, IndED Academies will be offering an after-school course for ages 8-11 titled, “Seeing the World Through the Arts”.  Students will be able to explore a variety of artwork and connect it to other subjects, while also having the opportunity to create their own artwork using the same techniques, themes, or inspiration as the artwork being studied.  For more information about the course, visit

Connect with us: