Habits of Mind

  • Understand Bias
  • Synthesize
  • Observe Details
  • Communicate

Cloud Column (Social Studies)

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

  • Explain a point of view on significant historical, social, economic, cultural or political issue
  • Interpret and create oral presentations of social studies information using effective communication skills
  • Describe how characteristics of art can relate to social studies issues



Details are key to understanding this work of art, students have to pick up on the difference in reflection on each side of the work of art and how the shape of the object reflects what is around in different ways. It might take multiple viewings or moving around this sculpture to truly pick up on the details in the reflection. Students would need help with questioning to understand this process

Observe Cloud Column by dividing class into 2 groups:

  • One group observes the concave side of Cloud Colum by visiting mfah.org. to view the photographic images. Each student quietly contemplates the image and writes observations. Discuss as a group. 
  • The other group observes the convex side of Cloud Column found here. Each student quietly contemplates the image and writes observations. Discuss as a group.
  • Switch images and repeat the process.
  • As a whole class, discuss the duality of the image; highlighting the play between the convex and concave surfaces and the ways these surfaces establish a dual reality.
  • Just as Cloud Column reflects dual perspectives, these issues can also present dual points of view. Teacher chooses a significant historical, social, economic, cultural or political issue from the curriculum that involves multiple perspectives. Returning to the previous groups, each group chooses a different perspective to research/explore (i.e. the Boston Tea Party could be explored from the following perspectives: British East India Tea Company, Boston Sons of Liberty, colonists, Loyalists, Patriots, English Parliament, etc.)
  • Conduct a mock debate representing the different perspectives.

  • Observe dualities at work in this sculpture. Elaborate and justify, using evidence from the work of art.
  • How is this work of art related to Isaac Newton? Explain.
  • How could the principles of physics relate to this sculpture?
  • Compare Cloud Column to a telescope.

By challenging their notion of what “art” is, this piece could show some of your more STEM minded students that science and math do have an important role in the creation of art and in the appreciation of art. Understanding how the shape of the object creates the view that you see when interacting with this piece could give some students more confidence that they understand big ideas within science and math that they might not have thought they could understand. 

Learn more about this artist at Art21: https://art21.org/artist/anish-kapoor/

Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Column” stands over two stories tall, rising 32 feet toward the sky and weighing 21,000 pounds. This massive free-standing sculptural work, located in the Brown Foundation Inc. Plaza, encourages ambitious manipulations of form and space to be perceived. The highly reflective surface of polished stainless steel animates the gathering place adjacent to other sculptures in the Roy and Hugh Cullen Sculpture Garden. Cloud Column was conceived in the late 1990s, completed in 2006, and installed in Houston in 2018. It is a singular work within a decades-long engagement encapsulating what the artist has called “defining space.” It was assembled entirely by hand in London, with the artist on site, dictating where he wanted surfaces hammered and welded. It was five years in the making and polished for another three years. Upon its arrival and installation in Houston, a single member of Kapoor’s London team perched on a cherry-picker and buffed the stainless-steel surface to its signature sheen, a process that took up to six hours. Unlike nearly all of Kapoor’s related sculptures, Cloud Column’s stainless-steel surface has been hand-worked, evoking the human touch.

Cloud Column has two very different sides; one side is beveled outward, while the other side is concave. The oblong form’s concave “front” faces the Glassell School of Art, inverting the structure, its surroundings and the viewer in its reflection. As the viewer stands below the sculpture the world is turned upside down with the viewer at the top and the clouds at the bottom. The sculpture’s convex side summons an interplay between the stainless surface and its surroundings, which reveals a direct reflection of the world around it. The play between the convex and concave surfaces establishes a dual reality, as the elongated core of the sculpture presents the world upside down, bringing the heavens down to earth. Kapoor challenges us to investigate how physics is manifested in this shiny ellipse.

Cloud Column gracefully invites us to contemplate not only the object itself, but also how we position ourselves in relation to the world around us. The highly polished stainless-steel surface reflects every nuance of light and at the same time captures the surrounding landscape. Kapoor’s works of art often allude to and play with dualities of earth/sky, lightness/darkness and visible/invisible.  

The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider