Creative Writing Using Van Gogh (LS-MT-353)

Have you ever tackled the issue of mental health while also discussing one of the greatest Expressionist artists of all time? This Learning Scenario gives you a good example of how a student can provide in writing his own philosophy of Vincent Van Gogh’s art while also getting an idea of his turbulent life.


This learning scenario was created by Justin Nicholas Micallef, a grade 6 teacher from Malta. Students learned about the turbulent life of Vincent Van Gogh also focusing on the issue of mental health challenges in order to promote awareness.

Students briefly learned about his artistic style, ‘Expressionism’ and held a discussion on his themes and topics illustrated. Additionally, using continuous paintings, students used their imagination and worked on their own creative writings while keeping in context the subject shown in the paintings. After the writings, all students shared their own stories with their classmates, thus promoting constructive critique.

Introducing the Learning Scenario

By using this Europeana resource, we introduced this lesson by discussing Vincent Van Gogh’s life, hence that he was born in 1853 in the Netherlands, produced about 2100 works of art and committed suicide in 1890 aged just 37.

Using the Van Gogh Museum website, together as a class, we browsed randomly some of his works of art while also explaining that Van Gogh is regarded as an Expressionist artist due to his heavy brushstrokes. Van Gogh’s mental health challenges were also discussed in the class, focusing on the fact that he suffered from psychotic disorders and delusions.

Some students felt comfortable to share their opinion on mental illness, however, it seemed that their spectrum was very limited as according to the mental health challenges only refer to when you feel sad and depressed for some time but then everything passes like nothing happened.

Consequently, we discussed that an illness in the brain is no different from one in the body, like cancer. By making this comparison, the children seemed more able to better understand how a family member is experiencing their particular illness and how they can be treated to get better.

Most of the students were curious about the term “depression” hence, we made it clear that everyone feels sad in life but depression is when that sadness starts to interfere with daily life. The sadness becomes overwhelming and lasts for a longer period of time.

The Writing Task

As part of the writing task, seven Van Gogh’s works of art, taken all from the Europeana Website, were displayed on the Interactive White Board and the students’ learn pad at the same time. These works of art were:

  • The Potato Eaters’
  • ‘Women on the Peet Moor’
  • ‘Woman Digging Potatoes’
  • ‘The Weed Burner’
  • ‘The Parsonage Garden at Nueneni’
  • At Eternity’s Gate’
  • ‘Man Digging’.

The explanation about each work of art was brief in order not to influence the students. Using their learning pad, the students discussed how these works of art could be placed in order and also form a story. A number of students discussed their own selection of works of art, thus building their own imaginative story.

About the students’ stories

It is important to note that most of the students started their story using the works of art: ‘Man Digging’, ‘Woman Digging Potatoes’, or ‘Women at the Peet Moor’, as according to them all three works of art show the initial stage of field cropping in order to produce food.

Other students believed that ‘The Weed Burner’ should be first as it depicts the removal of bad weed in order to sow the crops for food. On the other hand, almost all students agreed that ‘Potato Eaters’ or/and ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ should be placed at the end due to the reason that they depict the consuming of the final product and sadly, the depressive emotions due to the lack of food on the table, thus going back to the issue of mental health. Following this discussion, students had time to write their imaginative story, keeping in mind the original story they had discussed with their friends.

Final outcome

To conclude this learning scenario, some students decided to read their original writing to the class, hence promoting constructive criticism from their friends. Some similar theories were that the digging male figure was Vincent Van Gogh himself while the digging female figure was Van Gogh’s mother. Moreover, the students were encouraged to repeat this learning scenario at home, possibly even using random works of art, thus, broadening their knowledge of works of art around us. 

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:

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The featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and belongs to the public domain.

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