Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • To encourage greater curiosity and creativity
  • To foster greater appreciation for art
  • To facilitate a sense of belonging and encourage more prosocial behavior in the classroom
  • When talking about art or any form of visual design


Time Required

  • ≤30 minutes



  • Writing Materials
  • Projector to display the following paintings or a print out copy for students
  • Optional: electronic device with internet access


Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify an art piece that moves them
  • Analyze the art piece using awe principles of design
  • Reflect on their internal experiences when viewing art


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Awe
  • Curiosity
  • Kindness and Compassion


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness


Mindfulness Components

  • Focused Attention
  • Open Awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Take a moment to think of a piece of art, architecture, or visual design that moves you. (If you are unable to think of something, you might look at art online or the architecture of buildings outside.)
  • Once you identify a piece, reflect on it by considering the following design principles that may inspire awe :
    • Where is there repetition, if any?
    • Where is there contrast, if any?
    • Do the parts signal a holistic process?
    • What are the hints of vastness, if any?
    • How do each of these elements make you feel?
    • What other thoughts or emotions are you experiencing as you view the image you selected?


Choosing an Artwork

  • Choose several of the art images in this document to share with your students.
    • You could print the images, share them electronically if your students have access to computers/laptops/tablets/phones, or you could post a few of the images on a projector.
    • You may also choose your own art images to share with students.
  • Ask students to choose an art image that they find beautiful or inspiring.
    • If students have access to electronic devices, you might also allow them to find an art image on the web.

Finding the Awe in Art and Visual Design

  • Explain to students:
    • Researchers have discovered that art and visual design can be a powerful source of awe—the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world at that moment. Awe can help us feel more connected to one another and the world, and can inspire us to be curious and creative.
    • The four design principles that may contribute to our experience of awe when we look at inspiring visual design are:
      • Repetition
      • Light/dark contrasts
      • The inclusion of parts that signal the presence of a holistic process
      • The inclusion of cues that hint at vastness
  • Ask students to take a moment to analyze the art image they selected using the four principles of awe in visual design. Use the following questions as guidance:
    • Is there repetition? If so, where is the repetition?
    • Is there contrast between light and dark? Does this contrast bring up any emotions? If so, which ones and why?
    • Do parts within the art image signal a holistic process? If so, how? What is the holistic process being signaled?
    • Are there hints of vastness? What might those hints be?


  • In pairs, small groups, or as a whole class, have students discuss:
    • What they found most captivating about the art image they chose
    • Which of the four principles of design they discovered in their art image
    • The emotions or thoughts they experienced when looking at the image



Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Reflection After the Practice

  • How did students respond to this practice?
  • Are they noticing art or other forms of visual design more frequently?
  • Did the practice spark students’ curiosity or creativity?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

In one study, 60 undergraduate students (59% female, 53% Asian/Asian American, 33% European American, 7% Latino/Latina, 2% Black, and 5% of another ethnicity) were asked to write about experiences that elicited awe for them. The findings showed that nature, art, and music are common elicitors of awe.

In another study, undergraduate students were asked to respond to a few questions assessing their openness to aesthetics, after which they engaged in an idea-generating task. The study showed that those who reported a greater openness to art also reported feeling more inspired by it, which was related to greater creativity scores.

A study with adolescents and adults from Iran, Malaysia, and the U.S. found that those who report often feeling awe also reported having a creative and curious personality.

Finally, in a study of 447 high school students from a Midwestern state (56% White, 25% Black, 6% Hispanic-American, 3% Asian American, and 10% multi-ethnic; 54% middle class), researchers found that dispositional awe (the tendency to feel awe in general) predicted academic outcomes, i.e., work ethic, behavioral engagement, and academic self-efficacy, via curiosity. In other words, awe-inducing activities may improve academic performance.


Why Does It Matter?

It can be easy for students to feel bogged down by daily routines, the demands of school and extracurriculars, the vast amount of negative news stories on various media outlets, and other daily concerns, stifling their creativity and sense of wonder.

Experiencing awe through art and visual design can help calm students, encourage them towards greater prosocial behavior, and reawaken their feelings of creativity, inspiration, and curiosity—all of which could lead to better academic performance.

“Art invigorates our best faculties and, to use Platonic language, inspires love in the highest part of the soul. It is able to do this partly by virtue of something which it shares with nature: a perfection of form which invites unpossessive contemplation and resists absorption into the selfish dream life of the consciousness.”
–Iris Murdoch
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