Visual Puzzle or Rebus

1. View and discuss Indiana’s painting The Sweet Mystery (1959-62) and related information. What do the shapes and words in the painting suggest to your students?

2. A rebus is a visual puzzle or riddle composed of signs, symbols, images, letters, words, and numbers that may represent the sound of certain words and syllables. You can find examples here: There are many ways to interpret and understand the connections amongst the words and images in The Sweet Mystery. The viewer is left to puzzle out the meaning for him/herself. While The Sweet Mystery is not strictly a rebus, it has much in common with such verbal-visual puzzles.

Ask your students to each think of a poem, story, song, food, place, or celebrity that is meaningful to them. What do they associate with this person or item? Have them use images, words, signs, and numbers to draw or collage a rebus. Students could use stencils for words and numbers or computers and Photoshop if available. Ask your students to decipher their rebuses. Can they crack the code of their peers’ visual puzzles? 

3. With your students, review the list of sources for The Sweet Mystery. Ask your students to make a list of the sources for their rebuses.

Artwork by Robert Indiana.

Robert Indiana (b. 1928), The Sweet Mystery, 1959-60. Oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in. Private collection. ©2013 Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York