Habits of Mind

  • Synthesize
  • Observe Details
  • Communicate

Cloud Column (ELA)

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

  • Analyze how duality and themes are developed through characterization and plot in a variety of texts
  • Synthesize information from text and visuals to create new understanding
  • Compose literary analysis using genre characteristics, inferences, and craft



Students will need to consider how the reflection is a distortion and can be controlled by shape and closeness. Students can build on top of their observations to create a meaning-of-the-work as a whole discussion. It’s a great way to introduce the symbol. This is important because learners need to understand that literature, as an art, needs to foster observation through close reading/thinking critically. Art, like literature, cannot be merely “looked at” quickly.

  • Discuss and give examples of mirror images.
  • Observe this sculpture using conversation starters on mfah.org; highlighting the distortions, reflections, and reversal of images.
  • The director of MFAH, Gary Tinterow, said the following about this work of art: “ Cloud Column is meant specifically to capture the heavens and bring them down to earth.” How does this quote mirror the work of art?
  • Observe dualities at work in this sculpture. Elaborate and justify, using evidence from the work of art. Discuss the theme of duality in select literary works such as “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens  or Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  • Using the following prompt, write a composition based on a literary work, citing textual evidence to support analysis and inferences:
    • PROMPT: Determine two central ideas and analyze their development over the course of the literary work, including how they interact and build on one another and how they could be symbolized by the artistry of Cloud Column.

  • 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.

Before showing the object, discuss what students know about mirror images. Then after viewing the object, they can add to their initial answers. With positive risk-taking, there are no necessarily right or wrong answers.

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