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Decorating Objects...and Re-decorating

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three class periods
Author: Debbie Winstein and Jennifer Almer, Miller Elementary School, Burbank Unified School District

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Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will discuss the form and function of Chinese porcelain objects with gilt-bronze mounts that were added by French artists. They will decorate cups or bowls with thematic designs then "sell" these works of art to partners role-playing as French tourists. Partners will add further decorations to the original designs. Each student will also write an account of his or her object's journey.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• discuss the form and function of decorative objects.
• understand how aesthetic styles change from country to country and across time.
• create thematic designs for works of art.
• understand that artists may not have control over their works of art once sold.
• write an account of an object's journey from the perspective of that object.


• Image of Pair of Ewers
• Image of Pair of Vases
• Image of Ewer
• A decorative object from home, such as a vase or candle holder
• World map
• Overhead projector
• Overhead transparencies of each of the featured works of art, with the original porcelain object cut out as much as possible so that the gilt-bronze mounts can be viewed separately
• White plastic or paper cups or bowls
• Paint and paint brushes, or markers in assorted colors
• Various decorative supplies, such as sequins, beads, feathers, straws, metallic markers, as well as reusable materials such as cardboard tubes, water bottle caps, and images from old calendars or magazines.
• Scissors
• Glue

Lesson Steps

Part 1: Discussing Decorative Objects
1. Show the class a decorative object you brought from home. Ask students what they think the object is used for. Tell students that they will be discussing decorative arts from the Getty Museum's collection. Explain that decorative objects are beautiful works of art that usually have a specific function or use in a home, such as a piece of furniture, vase, or bowl.

2. Tell students that they will be viewing decorative objects that were first made in China and then sold in France. Now the objects are in the United States at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. Point these countries out on a map so students will have a sense of how far the objects have traveled.

3. Display the cut-out transparency showing only the original porcelain objects in Pair of Ewers. Ask students what they observe about the objects. Students can pair-share their ideas with a partner before opening discussion to the whole class. Discuss the form and function of the object, using the following questions as a guide:
• What do you notice about the design of the objects? How are the objects decorated?
• Is there a theme to the decoration (i.e., animals, floral patterns)?
• What colors and patterns are included? What else is included?
• How do you think these objects were used?

4. Inform students that they are looking at an example of porcelain, which is a ceramic that was invented in China, more than 2,000 years ago. For hundreds of years, people living in Europe wanted to know how porcelain was made, but they did not find out the secret ingredient (kaolin) until the late 18th century.

5. Add the cut-out from the transparency that shows the gilt-bronze mounts, and ask students the following questions:
• How do you think the objects can be used now?
• Do you think the objects look better now compared to the original porcelain objects?

6. Repeat step 3 and 5 using Pair of Vases and Ewer.

7. Lead a discussion about all three images, and ask students to share any similarities they noticed between the objects. Point out that the original porcelain was made in China, and artists in France added the gilt-bronze mounts. Ask students the following questions:
• Why do you think French artists added decorations to the original objects?
• How would you feel if a stranger added decorations to a work of art you made?
• Can you think of anything in your house that looks pretty but does not have a specific function or use?
• What are some reasons people buy decorative objects for their home, even if they do not serve particular functions?

8. Inform students that French artists thought they were improving upon the style of the porcelain objects. Although the original Chinese porcelain was decorated with detailed patterns—often with objects from nature—fancy gold handles and accents were added to the smooth surfaces in France because the style was popular among wealthy people in France.

9. Explain to the class that each student will decorate an ordinary white bowl or cup. As students create their decorative objects, remind them that the porcelain pieces were decorated with images from nature. What decorative themes will they choose for their objects? Ask students to brainstorm ideas with a partner then share them with the class.

Part 2: Making Decorative Objects
1. Pass out plain white bowls or cups and either markers or paint and paint brushes. Remind each student to paint or draw a design that has a theme.

2. When finished decorating, each student must now "sell" his or her item to a classmate who will pretend to be a French tourist. Once the French tourists have "bought" the objects, instruct students to switch objects with their partners. The new owner of the object will now add decorations that the owner thinks would enhance the object, just as French artists believed they were doing for the porcelain objects at the Getty Museum.

3. Tell students they will be using their imaginations to add to the designs. Pass out scissors, glue, and assorted items students could use to decorate the objects. Give students time to add to the original designs.

4. When finished, the "French tourists" will share their designs with the original artists. Discuss what students like about the new designs, and what they wish was kept from the original designs.

Part 3: Writing about Decorative Objects
1. Have each student write an account of his or her decorative object's journey, from the perspective of the object. You may wish to give students the following writing prompts:
• Where did I come from originally? Where did I go next?
• How did my decorations change over time? How did I feel when my new owner altered my decorations?
• Where will I go next?

2. Invite students to read their narratives aloud.

Pair of Ewers / Chinese and French
Pair of Ewers. Porcelain: Chinese, 1736–1795; Mounts: French, Paris, 1745–1749


Informal assessment will take place through discussion questions and by surveying students as they work on their objects. Assess students' works of art based on whether their designs include a theme. Assess their narratives based on the basic use of proper punctuation and capitalization and whether they are written from the perspective of the objects.


Students can choose from the following assignments:
• Write a complaint to a newspaper from the perspective of a Chinese artist who did not like the French additions to his or her work of art.
• Write a postcard from the perspective of a person who just bought Chinese porcelain decorated with gilt-bronze mounts. The person will describe the new purchase to a friend.
• Create an advertisement for a decorative object as if selling it to a wealthy patron.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts and Performing Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 3

Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Compare and contrast selected works of art and describe them, using appropriate vocabulary of art.
4.2 Identify successful and less successful compositional and expressive qualities of their own works of art and describe what might be done to improve them.

Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.2 Write a poem or story inspired by their own works of art.

English—Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write narratives.
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.6 Use knowledge of the basic rules of punctuation and capitalization when writing.

Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
1.3 Respond to questions with appropriate elaboration.

"It was interesting how most students didn't want to give up their first decorative attempt. Even though students were told they'd be giving up their original designs and obtaining another, they weren't prepared to part with them when the time came. By starting the trade activity on another day, it brought back the concept that many artists do sell their work to make a living. The thought of another artist changing their design was a difficult pill to swallow, however, and many students kept the integrity of the original designs."
—Debbie Winstein and Jennifer Almer

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