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5 Artworks That Depict Love in Unexpected Ways

Love. At first, this might seem like a topic you and your students don’t want to discuss. The last thing your students want to hear is some older adults talking about mushy, gushy love stuff. Gross.

However, for centuries artists, writers, and musicians have used love as a theme in their work. It comes in all forms from literal depiction, allegory, and metaphor. After all, love is the universal language.  But, what does love really look like? If you were to ask your students to draw “love,” they’d probably sketch out a drawing of a heart symbol. Trite symbolism like this is used often by students to express a feeling. But, does this symbol really show love?

Artists like Jim Dine, Romero Britto, and Robert Indiana use trite symbolism in their artworks about love, but isn’t there more to it than that? Now more than ever our world needs to see what love looks like. Love doesn’t just come in the romantic form, but it comes in various ways that students can relate to and should be exposed to. Here are five artworks that depict love in a non-traditional way.

1. Love is Calling (2013) by Yayoi Kusama

https://www.wbur.org/artery/2019/09/11/yayoi-kusama-love-is-calling-ica

Iconic contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama, is taking the world by storm with her infinity rooms. Her largest exhibit yet, Love is Calling, is an immersive experience that, at first glance, might appear as a colorful showing of dots, mirrors, and lights, but it’s much more than that. In this audio and visual experience, Kusama has written a poem entitled, “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears.” The poem carries heavy themes of life, death, and love. As a viewer enters the room the Japanese poem is recited as part of the experience. Kusama’s use of dots in her work speaks to the interconnectedness the world and humankind share. In this piece, she wants all of her viewers to have an immersive experience of love.

2. Three Forms in Grey Alabaster (1934) by Dame Barbara Hepworth

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-three-forms-carving-in-grey-alabaster-t03131

At first glance, these sculptures might appear as a simple minimalist sculpture. You’ll notice that each one of the forms differs in size, with each having its own imperfections. These oval and sphere-like forms are representations of the human form. This piece was a token of love to her three newborn triplets. There is tension between the parts and conscious effort of space placed between the forms, which are often themes found in many relationships.

3. Take Care of Yourself (2007) by Sophie Calle

https://www.artsy.net/artwork/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself-feist

Artists don’t just share the highlights of love in their work. In this work, by Sophie Calle, she shows love in the form of heartbreak. The inspiration behind this 106 piece  installation showcasing video, film, and print was her break-up experience occurring over email. The last line of that email from her ex read, “Take care of yourself.” The initial response to the creation of this piece was a form of therapy, but the project evolved. She asked 107 other women to analyze and dissect the email to create this showcase of heartbreak.

4. Love is in the Air (2003) by Banksy

http://andipa.com/artist/banksy/love-air-flower-thrower

Banksy is known for keeping the art world on their toes, and we’ve indeed come to expect the unexpected. Banksy’s work is filled with tones of political activism and isn’t afraid to speak on current issues. In one of his most famous images on the West Bank in Jerusalem shows a militant man in a fighting stance. In an area filled with conflict and violence, the stance of the man is common with someone who would be throwing a grenade. Instead, Banksy shows a bouquet of flowers being thrown as a message to spread peace and love instead.

5. Watering Flowers (2013) by Wang Xingwei

https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/wang-xingwei-mashes-up-eastern-and-western-styles-for-witty-effect

Chinese artist Wang Xingwei is best known for his comical, cartoon-like paintings. Your students will love the whimsy and surreal tones seen within his work. In this painting, Xingwei shows love through nurturing. The symbolism of the watering can as the head of the man, and the flower pot as the head of the woman expresses this theme of nurture. In a relationship, one grows with the help of their counterpart.

Love is all around us, but each one of us, including our students, experience it differently. In relationships, friendships, and acts of kindness, love isn’t going to be the same, and that’s okay. We need to bring this awareness to our students, and we can—through art.

What’s your favorite artwork that uses the theme of love?
What themes in art do your students relate to most?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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