Art theme: everyday

Scenes of everyday life are known by art historians as 'genre' paintings. They usually focus on ordinary and unidentifiable people doing normal, everyday 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

Interior (1938)
William Gillies (1898–1973)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 127 x W 173.5 cm

William George Gillies is one of Scotland's best-known twentieth-century artists. He taught at Edinburgh College of Art where he inspired generations of young painters.

Gillies took inspiration from Post-Impressionism and European modern art to develop a uniquely expressive painting style. In Interior, he brings landscape, still life and portraiture together for this scene painted in his family home. The painting was made two years after the death of Gillies' sister Emma, whom he was close to, and reflects his family, their identities and relationships in the context of this loss.

Gillies places himself in the centre of the composition, between his mother and his sister Janet. He has presented Janet some 20 years younger than she would have been at the time Interior was painted. A small red squirrel, a ceramic made by Emma, can be seen behind his mother's head to the left.

At first, it looks as if Gillies is standing in a narrow space between two rooms, but in fact, he has painted a reflection of himself in a tall, narrow mirror. If you look closely, you will see that he has treated the reflected space behind him in the mirror differently from the space in the rest of the painting. He uses the mirror to explore the idea of visual illusion. By placing a reflection of himself painting the picture we are looking at, he makes the artist and the act of creation a part of the painting itself.

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:

  • Is it a painting of an inside place or an outside place?
  • How many people can you see and what are they doing?
  • Are the people talking or interacting?
  • Who are the people and what are they thinking and feeling? What makes you say this?
  • How would you feel if you were transported into the painting? What sounds would you hear?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

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

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 can introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers while asking these bespoke questions with helpful responses which can be found in the teachers' notes.

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.


  • Create your own family self-portrait. Divide your paper into parts, one for each person who you live with. Include a self-portrait in the middle too! 
  • Make a colour palette of the painting. Can you spot all the warm colours and all the cool colours? 


  • Create a soundscape for each 'room' in this painting, using objects you can see and what you can imagine. For example, is the mother listening to something? Where might be the quietest part of the painting? 


  • Imagine you are walking around the rooms in this painting. What can you feel that's bumpy? What can you find that's smooth? What feels warm and what feels cold? 


  • In groups of three, pose as the three figures. Who is still and who is mid-movement? Where do you think the figures will move to? Where and how might they greet each other? 


  • Look carefully at the painting and decide which room you would most like to be in. Use three adjectives to describe your chosen room. Can your talking partner guess which room you have chosen? 
  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'home'. 

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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