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Art theme: scenes of everyday life

Scenes of everyday life are known by art historians as 'genre' paintings. They usually focus on ordinary and unidentifiable people doing normal everday things. This is the opposite of what art historians call 'history' paintings where the artist shows a specific scene from history or myth.

Contextual background for teachers

The Ward Round (2002)
Simon Black (1958–2008)

Medium: oil on linen
Dimensions: H 122 x W 153 cm

Commissioned by the Trustees of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, this painting represents a scene we are all familiar with. The family at the centre of the composition tells us that we're in the paediatric department and there is an obvious meaning in the relationships between groups of figures in this scene.

Can you see any similarities between the composition of this painting and Gossaert's The Adoration of the Kings, an artwork which features in The Superpower of Looking resources on history paintings?

The analogy with a Renaissance work hundreds of years earlier isn't as peculiar as it first seems. The late artist Simon Black said, 'The Royal Free Hospital commissions fuse echoes of Poussin, Uccello and Spencer with the frozen moment redolent of the digital twenty-first-century eye.' Certainly, both scenes are balanced around a central family group and there is geometry at play.

While hospital departments like this are instantly recognisable to many of us as serious places, the artist's treatment of the scene is quite cartoonish, isn't it? Is it moving or static? Is the colour palette broad or limited? Although the cubicles suggest separation (a similar device is used in the Gossaert), everyone appears interconnected in terms of being a whole team. How can we relate this to the work of the NHS?

Look, describe and discuss

Open a full-screen version of the zoomable image in a new window.

Ask your students to describe the artwork, encouraging them to simply say what they can see.

You can start by showing the whole image, and then use the zoom feature to explore details of the painting. Or you might like to start by using the zoom feature to show a detail from the image, and then zoom out to see more.

Encourage your students to look carefully – this is their superpower! It's best to not give too much background information about the artwork at this stage, so students can develop their own ideas and opinions.

Nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • Where might this scene be taking place? What clues tell us?
  • There are a variety of different objects on the walls and in people's hands. What are they? Why are they there?
  • How has the painter used colour to get us to focus on different things?
  • How would you describe the mood of the scene? Would you describe this scene as ordered or chaotic?
  • Is this painting realistic in style? Does a painting need to look realistic like a photograph to be easily understood and have an impact on us?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting.

Use The Superpower of Looking Kit to ask questions about the artwork.

For this artwork, you will focus on:

Ask your students to evidence their points:

  • where exactly are they looking when they make a statement?
  • can everybody see what they see?
  • slow down, take time to really look closely

You may like to introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers at this point.

Everyone learning

You can find out more about The Superpower of Looking® SEND/ASD/ALN approach on the Superpower homepage.

Now it's time to explore the artwork in different ways. This list of sensory activities encourages students to apply their learning and can suit a variety of learning needs.


  • Experiment with hand gestures with this Talking Hands activity from the National Portrait Gallery. Use photography to create students' own health care message.
  • Visiting a hospital might make us feel a little nervous, but making art can be a great way to help us deal with our feelings. Watch this Explore your Feelings video from Tate, then get your students drawing. What would their doodles look like if they were feeling anxious? What about if they were feeling happy?



  • Celebrate the National Health Service with this song from CBBC's Horrible Histories.



  • Feel the different textures in the painting: objects made of soft fabrics like the blanket and soft toy; items made of metal like the stethoscope. Which textures are more comforting?



  • What will happen next? Each student chooses a person in the painting and acts out their movements in this busy hospital ward after the moment shown in this painting.



  • Talking with a partner: how do you think the child in the middle of the painting is feeling? Why?
  • Learn the Makaton signs or British Sign Language for 'doctor' and 'nurse'.

Final stage: review

Ask your students to:

  • share their sketchbooks in groups and discuss the 'elements' they have identified
  • choose an element/aspect they find most interesting about the artwork and record it in their sketchbooks
  • choose their own name/s for the title of the artwork
  • think of a question they would like to ask the artist



You have now completed this lesson resource on The Superpower of Looking.

There are more resources in this theme to try – have a look at the 'next lessons' section below.

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