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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Landscapes, Classical to Modern: Lessons and Ideas for Discussion Lesson Plans Environmental Impact
Environmental Impact

Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
1–2 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom
Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Image Bank
Brief History of the Landscape Genre
Discussion Questions

Lesson Overview

Students will analyze a 20th century photograph of a Los Angeles landscape, utilizing the principles of design and discussing the message of the work. They will also consider the history of Los Angeles within the broader context of population expansion in U.S. history, and write a research paper about the environmental impacts of overpopulation.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• discuss how the principles of design are used by an artist in a photograph.
• explain the historical and technological development of aerial photography.
• discuss the political and environmental message in a photograph.
• research and write a paper about the environmental impacts of overpopulation in Los Angeles.


• image of Willian A. Garnett's photograph Los Angeles Sprawl and Smog, Los Angeles
• Worksheet: Principles of Design
• paper and pencils

Lesson Steps

1. Ask students to consider the photograph Los Angeles Sprawl by William A. Garnett. Do not reveal the image's title. Use the following questions to discuss the image. (Refer to the Image Bank, by clicking on the thumbnail above, for answers to questions.)
• What do you notice first about this image?
• What about this photograph do you find interesting?
• What do you think is the subject of this photograph? What do you see that makes you say that?

2. Instruct students to discuss the principles of design (pass out the worksheet, Principles of Design). Have students break into small groups to re-consider the photograph using the principles of design. Make sure students understand that all principles may not be present, and some will have stronger emphasis in the composition than others. Instruct them to look for the principles that seem most evident in the photograph. Consider the following questions:
• What principles of design did the artist use in this photograph? Give visual evidence for your findings. (Possible answers could be pattern, repetition, balance, rhythm, movement, etc. Rhythm and movement can be seen in the repeating lines of the roadways and the patterns of buildings and houses that cover the landscape into the distance.)
• What evidence can you find that tells you this is a landscape? (Mountains can be seen in the distance. Even though manmade structures have taken over, it is still a landscape.)
• What was the artist's vantage point when he took this image?
• What do you think the artist was trying to communicate in this photograph? (Answers may vary. The artist had to wait a long time to capture this image of urban sprawl. It records a part of the history of Los Angeles, which spread out and crowded the surrounding landscape as it grew.)

3. Give the students some background information on the artist and the photograph. Garnett may have taken up aerial photography following its widespread use for surveillance in World War II. As you discuss Garnett and his motivations for making this image, show students another image of Los Angeles by Garnett, Smog, Los Angeles.

4. Begin a discussion on the history of Los Angeles and its settlement, including the population explosions of the 1920s–1930s and the 1940s–1950s. An Internet or encyclopedia search on the History of Los Angeles may yield interesting resources to help teachers cover the essentials.

5. Discuss the issues that face the Los Angeles basin today. Consider that the population of Los Angeles in 1950 was 1,970,358 with an area of 450 square miles while in 1990, it was estimated at 3,485,398 with an area of 469 square miles. Use the following questions for discussion.
• In Garnett's photographs, what visual evidence can you find of the population increases that occurred around 1950?
• What impacts, either positive or negative, would you expect the population increase from 1950 to today to have on the land in and around Los Angeles? (One negative impact is increased water usage in an area that has very limited fresh-water resources. Another is the dismantling of public transit in the 1940s in favor of car ownership and highway use. The number of drivers on the road has increased dramatically since the 1950s and this contributes greatly to the poor air quality of the area. Additionally, other pollutants from oil refineries and from the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach contribute to the smog.)
• Brainstorm and discuss some ways the negative impacts of Los Angeles' population expansion are being minimized. (smog checks for automobiles, non-potable water used for sprinkler systems, emissions controls and regulations for factories, and limitations on sewage dumping in the ocean.)

6. Divide the students into small groups of no more than five students. Have each group research a specific result of the overpopulation of Los Angeles, its environmental impact, and what, if anything, has been done to address the problems. Each group should be responsible for researching in depth one aspect, impact, and solution; group members can divide their assignments however they see fit. Have each group write a 5-to-10 page paper to be presented as a group before the class; a written draft of the paper should be submitted to the teacher. As each group presents, discuss the issues and possible solutions raised as a group. Visual aids should be encouraged as part of the presentation.

Los Angeles Sprawl / Garnett
William A. Garnett, Los Angeles Sprawl, 1954
© Estate of William A. Garnett


Students will be evaluated on their participation in the visual analysis of works of art and class discussion. Students will also be evaluated based on their completion of the environmental research assignment, their ability to work together as a team, and their class presentation.


• Garnett said about his work of the mid 1950s, "I came to the conclusion that I can't really make much of a change in society's attitude towards land use by just showing them what's wrong. I've come to the conclusion you have to show them what's right and inspire them." Now examine another Garnett photograph, such as Rabbit and Cattle Tracks, Carrizo Plain. How would an image such as this inspire you to preserve and protect the landscape?

• Have students research and discuss other American photographers who used their work to make statements about the environment and promote conservationist causes. For example, they may look at the work of Ansel Adams or Eliot Porter.

• Have students take their own landscape photographs that represent environmental issues they find in their own neighborhoods. Discuss how their art can raise the awareness of environmental issues in the same ways that Garnett's work does.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grades 9–12 Proficient

1.0 Artistic Perception
Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.3 Research and analyze the work of an artist and write about the artist's distinctive style and its contribution to the meaning of the work.
1.4 Analyze and describe how the composition of a work of art is affected by the use of a particular principle of design.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Contect
Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.
Role and Development of the Visual Arts
3.2 Identify and describe the role and influence of new technologies on contemporary works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Students analyze, assess, and derive meaning from works of art, including their own, according to the elements of art, the principles of design, and aesthetic qualities
Make Informed Judgments
4.5 Employ the conventions of art criticism in writing and speaking about works of art.

History—Social Science Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 11

United States History and Geography: Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century
Students in grade eleven study the major turning points in American history in the twentieth century. Following a review of the nation's beginnings and the impact of the Enlightenment on U.S. democratic ideals, students build upon the tenth grade study of global industrialization to understand the emergence and impact of new technology and a corporate economy, including the social and cultural effects. They trace the change in the ethnic composition of American society; the movement toward equal rights for racial minorities and women; and the role of the United States as a major world power. Students consider the major social problems of our time and trace their causes in historical events.

11.5 Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s.
1. Discuss the rise of mass production techniques, the growth of cities, the impact of new technologies (e.g., the automobile, electricity), and the resulting prosperity and effect on the American landscape.

11.7 Students analyze America's participation in World War II.
1. Describe major developments in aviation, weaponry, communication, and medicine and the war's impact on the location of American industry and use of resources.

11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America. 7. Discuss the diverse environmental regions of North America, their relationship to local economies, and the origins and prospects of environmental problems in those regions.
8. Describe the effects on society and the economy of technological developments since 1945, including the computer revolution, changes in communication, advances in medicine, and improvements in agricultural technology.

11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society.
5. Trace the impact of, need for, and controversies associated with environmental conservation, expansion of the national park system, and the development of environmental protection laws, with particular attention to the interaction between environmental protection advocates and property rights advocates.
7. Explain how the federal, state, and local governments have responded to demographic and social changes such as population shifts to the suburbs, racial concentrations in the cities, Frostbelt-to-Sunbelt migration, international migration, decline of family farms, increases in out-of-wedlock births, and drug abuse.

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