Art History 101

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Why is Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” considered a masterpiece? What’s so special about Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man? How did Michelangelo’s statue of David become an icon? If you’re curious about art history, then you’ll love these 6 TED-Ed Lessons by art historian James Earle. Watch the playlist:

1. Why is this painting so captivating?

On first glance, the painting “Las Meninas” (“The Maids of Honor”) might not seem terribly special, but it’s actually one of the most analyzed pieces in the history of art. Why is this painting by Diego Velazquez so captivating? James Earle and Christina Bozsik share the context and complexity behind this work of art. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

2. Why is Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” considered a masterpiece?

Is she turning towards you or away from you? No one can agree. She’s the subject of Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” a painting often referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of the North.’ But what makes this painting so captivating? James Earle explains how this work represents the birth of a modern perspective on economics, politics, and love. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

3. The many meanings of Michelangelo’s Statue of David

We typically experience classic works of art in a museum, stripped of their original contexts, but that serene setting can belie a tumultuous history. Take Michelangelo’s statue of David: devised as a religious symbol, adopted as a political emblem, and later iconized for its aesthetic beauty. James Earle walks us through the statue’s journey, to show how art gains layers of meaning over time. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

4. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man of math

What’s so special about Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man? With arms outstretched, the man fills the irreconcilable spaces of a circle and a square — symbolizing the Renaissance-era belief in the mutable nature of humankind. James Earle explains the geometric, religious and philosophical significance of this deceptively simple drawing. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

5. Distorting Madonna in Medieval art

After Rome was destroyed, people were wary of attachment to physical beauty. As Christianity gained traction, Romans instead began to focus on the metaphysical beauty of virtue, and art began to follow suit. James Earle discusses how Medieval paintings of Madonna were affected by this shift. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

6. Dissecting Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi

The scene of the three wise men offering gifts to a newborn Jesus was widely painted during the Renaissance era, so how did painter Sandro Botticelli create a version that’s still well known today? James Earle describes who and what set Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi apart in the annals of art history. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

For more art history, watch these TED-Ed Lessons. For more ideas from James Earle, check out Amor Sciendi.

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TED-Ed Weekend 2016: Meet the speakers!


TED-Ed Weekends are designed to amplify the voices of TED’s next generation and celebrate the TED-Ed Clubs community. During the first TED-Ed Weekend event, student attendees will enjoy a full day of inspiring ideas, interactive workshops, and riveting TED Talks in the newly created theater at TED Headquarters in New York City. Below, check out the amazing youth speaker lineup for the first TED-Ed Weekend event, happening on December 3, 2016:

Ashton Cofer is a 9th grader in Columbus, Ohio. Last year, his FIRST Robotics team won the Google Science Fair for developing a process to convert Styrofoam waste into activated carbon for purifying water. Ashton also has three patents under his name.

Irfhana Zakir Hussain attends high school in Fremont, California. She is a proud volunteer youth educator at the International Tamil Academy and even helped plan the opening ceremony of the Global Diaspora Tamil Education Conference. As a young Muslim woman, she has experienced discrimination concerning her religion. Irfhana decided to share her ideas via TED-Ed Clubs after realizing that, unfortunately, she was not alone.

Sean Fredella is a 10th grader in Mountain Brook, Alabama. He’s proud to say that he has met the New York Yankees and talked with the legendary Derek Jeter. In the past eight years, Sean has battled cancer four times. Today, his goal is to help find a cure for pediatric cancer by raising awareness through sports.

Gabriela Shimako recently graduated from Asociación Escuelas Lincoln International School in Argentina, where she was a proud member of TED-Ed Clubs. As a feminist, Gabriela is passionate about updating public knowledge about feminism.

Jim Patrick is a 2nd grade student in San Diego, California. He chose to talk about math for his talk because he feels it is important for kids to understand how it works and why they should learn it in school. One thing that always makes Jim laugh? The funny creations on

Estée Park is a first-year student at the University of Notre Dame. Previously, she attended high school in Atlanta, Georgia, where she helped her soccer team win a state championship. Estée loves kayaking and is passionate about gender equality and pro soccer — two ideas that come together beautifully in her TED-Ed Weekend talk.

Ryan Ng attends high school in Penang, Malaysia. Ryan has always been interested in public speaking and debating, but what really jumpstarted his love of TED Talks was seeing Adora Svitak on stage. Ryan also loves art, calligraphy, and urban sketching expeditions.

Jaleah Colbert is a 7th grade student in Atlanta, Georgia. As a young film director and movie maker, Jaleah encourages all kids to be creative and independent — and to go for their dreams. One thing that always makes Jaleah laugh? Unplanned funny incidents.

Enzo Cox is a 4th grade homeschool student in South Carolina. A young maker and shaker, Enzo loves creating video games, acting in the theatre, and doing improv. He is also a drummer, and has been playing the drums since he was 3.

Esha Karthi Raj is an 8th grade student in Bangalore, India. She loves art, sports and cooking. As a young chef, Esha has learned many life lessons in the kitchen. In her TED-Ed Weekend talk, she shares a few of her favorite ideas.

Jasper Coombes-Watkins is a 13-year-old student in Australia. He enjoys playing video games and proudly claims he can finish a 600-page book in less than a week. When he’s not reading or gaming, you can find Jasper studying other topics, including martial arts.

Brett Lewis attends high school in Birmingham, Alabama. As a TED-Ed Club Member, he is thrilled to speak about an idea he loves: the power of peer helpers. One thing that always puts a smile on his face? Making other people smile.

Analia Wu was first introduced to TED Talks by her high school English teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina. No stranger to culture shock, Analia is now a first-year student at the University of Michigan, where she is thrilled to study entrepreneurship.

Aishwarya Chodankar is a 12th grade student in Mumbai, India. She loves learning and has a keen interest in Bharatanatyam Classical dancing. One movie that always makes her laugh? Minions.

Petrina Nomikou was born in Greece and currently attends high school in Argentina. She joined her school’s TED-Ed Club because of her passion for learning new languages, and in her TED-Ed Weekend talk, Petrina examines the ways that language can shape thought. In her spare time, you might find Petrina banging on her drum set or chuckling at sarcasm.

Olivia Chapman is an 8th grade student in Kirksville, Missouri. She joined TED-Ed Clubs as part of her school’s gifted and talented program. In her talk, Olivia examines the differences between equality and equity in education. One thing that makes her laugh? Bad voice impressions.

Annika Paulson is a first-year student at the University of Minnesota. In high school, Annika joined a TED-Ed Club because she wanted to experience the journey of creating her own TED Talk. She loves music and plays three instruments: guitar, bass and ukelele.

TED-Ed Weekend events are for students in TED-Ed Clubs. Apply to start a TED-Ed Club now so you don’t miss out on TED-Ed Weekends in 2017! To learn more about the TED-Ed Clubs program or to create your own club, visit TED-Ed Clubs.

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The physics of the “hardest move” in ballet (in TED-Ed GIFs)


In the third act of “Swan Lake”, the Black Swan pulls off a seemingly endless series of turns, bobbing up and down on one pointed foot and spinning around and around and around … thirty-two times. It’s one of the toughest sequences in ballet, and for those thirty seconds or so, she’s like a human top in perpetual motion. Those spectacular turns are called fouettés, which means “whipped” in French, describing the dancer’s incredible ability to whip around without stopping. Below, Arleen Sugano explains the physics of this famous ballet move.


The dancer starts the fouetté by pushing off with her foot to generate torque. But the hard part is maintaining the rotation. As she turns, friction between her pointe shoe and the floor, and somewhat between her body and the air, reduces her momentum. So how does she keep turning? Between each turn, the dancer pauses for a split second and faces the audience. Her supporting foot flattens, and then twists as it rises back onto pointe, pushing against the floor to generate a tiny amount of new torque.

At the same time, her arms sweep open to help her keep her balance. The turns are most effective if her center of gravity stays constant, and a skilled dancer will be able to keep her turning axis vertical.

The extended arms and torque-generating foot both help drive the fouetté. But the real secret and the reason you hardly notice the pause is that her other leg never stops moving. During her momentary pause, the dancer’s elevated leg straightens and moves from the front to the side, before it folds back into her knee.


By staying in motion, that leg is storing some of the momentum of the turn. When the leg comes back in towards the body, that stored momentum gets transferred back to the dancer’s body, propelling her around as she rises back onto pointe.


As the ballerina extends and retracts her leg with each turn, momentum travels back and forth between leg and body, keeping her in motion.

In Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the Black Swan is a sorceress, and her 32 captivating fouettés do seem almost supernatural. But it’s not magic that makes them possible. It’s physics.

Animation by Dancing Line Productions/TED-Ed

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7 interviewing tips for video storytellers

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Laurie House is a documentary filmmaker in New York and a video producer at TED. Below, she offers advice for student storytellers who want to conduct video interviews — like this — that open a window of understanding for viewers:

Every interviewed someone officially? Or talked to a friend about something going on in their life? Ok, so you probably already have more interview skills than you realize. I love to interview people because I get to go into a new world and start asking nosy questions. I like to get to the bottom of things. And I like that interviewing gives me a chance to ask things that I might not normally. For someone to give me their story is such an honor. In return for that honor, I try my hardest to help people say what they want, to make sure what comes out is real — and that it represents them. That it helps them to be heard. Here are some of my tips for documentary video interviews:

1. Interview style: Besides the standard sit down interview, you can set up your subject to be doing an activity that reveals something about them, like how they cook a meal. Or, you might set up the camera to capture an interview while they’re in the car. “Walk n talk” interviews can be fun but technically challenging, so plan ahead.

2. Location: Choose a location to match your content. A location can show a lot about someone — for example, a subject could give you a tour of their house, or show you around their classroom, or talk to you on the football field. Outdoor light is great.

3. Framing: Be intentional about your framing. It’s best to use horizontal (landscape) framing if you’re using an iPhone for video, but there’s really no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ framing any more, as long as it’s intentional and motivated by the content. For example, you can shoot someone upside down, if they have a Batman costume on…but if it’s not motivated by the content, creative framing can be distracting. Is someone especially formal? Maybe play with that instead of trying to hide it. For example, you could frame them in a more formal, wider shot to emphasize their formality, rather than in a closeup where they just look uncomfortable.

4. Background: Pay attention to background noise and activity. What is happening visually in the background? If there’s background activity, make sure it’s motivated and works for the content — otherwise, it’s distracting. What noise is in the background? Good audio is important, so pay extra attention to any background noise where you set up. Listen for sounds that you don’t normally notice that could be distracting. If you start an interview and find that the background noise is distracting, don’t hesitate to stop the interview and move to somewhere quieter. Before you start, do a tech check for video and sound.

5. Interviewing: Really listen. If you are real, relaxed and spontaneous, the person you’re talking to will be more likely to mirror that. Don’t just wait for a person’s answer with glazed over eyes, glancing down or reading your next question. Your interview subject will take your cue. Also, let them do the talking! Sometimes it’s best to leave space when they finish speaking, instead of jumping in with your response or your next question. A slightly awkward silence can sometimes inspire and provoke a person to bring out their deeper thoughts. And remember, what is interesting to you is probably interesting to others, so go ahead and ask — within reason, of course.

6. Troubleshooting: Sometimes when people are being interviewed, they get uptight and start talking like they are not themselves. How can you break that trend? First, check that you are speaking in a real way to them, rather than in a formal, stilted way where you’re reading your questions directly from the page. Then, help them come back into themselves by throwing in a surprise question or changing your line of questioning or even taking a moment to stop and triplecheck your recording equipment.

7. Important to remember: If you need to spell out information or a backstory to provide context, make sure to do this on video with the subject. Also, encourage your subject to tell an anecdote or story, not just a description of how they feel. This can be easy to forget!

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Image credit: iStock

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10 questions to ask your family around the table

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Sometime between the first bite of turkey and the last slice of pie, it’ll happen: a lull in the dinner conversation. What will you do next? If you’re breaking bread with acquaintances, you might turn small talk into smart conversation or choose to talk about politics constructively. But if you’re with family and friends and want to deepen the ties that bind, then try asking one of the following 10 questions around the table, as recommended by StoryCorps founder (and 2015 TED Prize winner) Dave Isay:

What are you grateful for?

What are you proudest of?

What’s been the happiest moment of your life so far?

What’s been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?

Who has been kindest to you?

How do you want to be remembered?

If your great great grandchildren could listen to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?

If you could honor one person in your life — living or dead — by listening to their story, who would that be, what would you ask them and why?

Need some inspiration first? Below, check out 3 stories of gratitude and thanksgiving, chosen by Dave Isay. For more stories from the heart, listen to these 7 unforgettable StoryCorps tales and read Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps.

“I put an ad in the local paper and offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner for twelve people.”
“Scott Macaulay remembers how, 25 years ago, he started an annual holiday dinner for strangers who have nowhere else to go.” Listen to his story.

“If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody.”
“In 2013, Maurice Rowland was working as a cook at Valley Springs Manor, an assisted living home for elderly residents in California. He got his friend Miguel Alvarez a job there as a janitor last fall. But in October of that year the company that managed the home suddenly shut it down, leaving many of the elderly residents with nowhere to go. The staff stopped being paid so they all left, except for Maurice and Miguel. At StoryCorps they remembered caring for abandoned residents until the fire department and sheriff took over three days later.” Listen to their story. 

“A good man”
“Bryan Wilmoth and his seven younger siblings were raised in a strict, religious home. At StoryCorps, Bryan talks with his brother Mike about what it was like to reconnect years after their dad kicked Bryan out for being gay.” Watch the animated story.

The article above was adapted for TED-Ed from this articleImage credit: iStock

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The magic of collaboration: These two teachers created #GlobalSpeedChat to promote cross-cultural understanding among students

Global Speed Chat

Colleagues, mentors, friends. This is how we describe each other after meeting face-to-face for the first time as part of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program. It was one year ago at TEDYouth in New York that we discovered just how much we had in common — namely, a passion for education! Since then, we have kept in touch on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis — sharing lesson ideas, homework experiences and future plans. Although we teach different curriculum at different schools in New York, we agree that as teachers we are in a position to influence kids in a positive way, and we feel very strongly that the solutions to global challenges start with youth around the world. If we can inspire students to understand each other a little bit better, we believe that we can help to create a more peaceful world. That’s why we created #GlobalSpeedChat.

What is #GlobalSpeedChat?
Created by two teachers, #GlobalSpeedChat is a curriculum that includes quick, ready-to-go digital activities that teachers, school leaders, and club organizers can do with students to build an awareness of others in our world. Our hope is that through participation in the activities, kids worldwide will become more aware of commonalities and learn to value differences. The plan is simple: create something together, share — and check back often to see what others are posting.

The idea for #GlobalSpeedChat grew out of our collaboration this summer on a TEDSummit workshop, which focused on bringing adults together from around the world to communicate with each other in a 1:1 setting. Our goal was to bring those initial conversations back to students, and empower them to continue open dialogue in a safe and collaborative environment: #GlobalSpeedChat.

To celebrate International Education Week, #GlobalSpeedChat is kicking off its first activity for kids this week! Activities will continue each month through June 2017 and beyond. To get involved or stay informed, sign up here for the #GlobalSpeedChat newsletter.

We believe that the best way for kids to really get to know each other is to give them opportunities to do something together. #GlobalSpeedChat creates those opportunities for students worldwide to collaborate. To learn more about #GlobalSpeedChat, check out

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Editor’s checklist: 8 ways to improve your nonfiction writing in 10 minutes

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Ready to improve your next blog post, school essay, or how-to article? Try out these self-editing tips after you finish a first draft:

Find the main idea + put it first. Writers frequently throw away a first paragraph on throat-clearing, explanatory exercises. Whether you’re blogging or writing another piece of editorial content, you can probably cut the first paragraph and lead with the 2nd — try it and see. The point is to start with a compelling statement.

Find the conclusion + put it last. What’s the 1 thing that you want readers to remember? That’s your conclusion. It will be similar to your main idea. Note: Some speed readers only look at the first and last paragraphs of a blog post. Make these count.

Read it out loud, preferably to another human. This practice alone will improve your writing. You’ll hear the parts that need to be tweaked.

When in doubt, make it two sentences. Really. If you’re stuck in the weeds, just make it 1 idea per sentence, in this order: Subject verb object.

Make the text more descriptive. Do a quick check for cliches (and swap them out). Do a quick check for clunky 3-syllable words (and swap in fresh, vibrant words). If you’re describing a scene, try to include words that evoke sensory input (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). As a general rule, choose ‘use’ instead of ‘utilize’ when you write. Use a thesaurus.

Less words, more visuals. The beauty of digital writing is that it’s not print — so take advantage of the medium. If you’re writing for a blog, you can (and should) include illustrations, images, pullquotes, videos, gifs, links, bullet points, and/or bigger and smaller text. For some effective examples, see Brainpickings.

Swap in short words + strong verbs. If you’re writing a blog post, then you’re writing for a global audience. For the sake of clarity, try to avoid jargon + acronyms. For inspiration, read On Writing Well.

Factcheck, factcheck, factcheck. Before you publish a blog post, turn in a talk script, or hand over an assignment, please comb through your draft one last time to confirm names and spellings, doublecheck quotes and source links, and triplecheck the accuracy of all facts, dates and statistics.

For more writing tips from TED-Ed, check out Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice. Image credit: Shutterstock.

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