Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson

Author: This lesson was adapted by J. Paul Getty Museum Education staff from a curriculum originally published on the Getty's first education website, ArtsEdNet.


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Lesson Overview

This lesson is part of a sequential unit. Students choose meaningful objects for a still-life arrangement and paint it using watercolors. After reflecting on their choice of objects and composition, students begin to write an artist's statement.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• identify and analyze the characteristics of a still-life painting.
• use specific watercolor techniques.
• paint from direct observation.
• capture the illusion of three-dimensional form and space in watercolors.
• use new vocabulary specific to watercolors and still-life painting.


• Watercolor paints, paper, brushes, and other selected tools for watercolors (paper towels, sponges, etc.)
• Journals for note taking and sketching
• Objects for creating still-life arrangements: pottery, glassware, fruit and vegetables, shells, flowers, etc.
• Objects brought to the classroom by students
• Images of still-life paintings from the Getty Museum collection. Below are suggested objects for this unit.
Click on thumbnails for brief historical information. Additional research may be added and other works may be substituted.

Lesson Steps

1. Show images of still-life paintings from the Getty Museum to the class and discuss the artists' choices using prompts such as:
• Describe the objects you see in the painting. Talk about how they are arranged. What adjective would you use to describe the arrangement?
• What do you think the objects in the paintings may symbolize? Speculate.
• Artists often paint still-life paintings by looking at the actual objects while they paint them. Yet they select and compose the objects in an artificial setting. Why do you think each artist chose the objects he or she chose? Why do you think the artist arranged the objects in this way?

2. Ask students to make a still-life arrangement using their own personal objects and those provided in the classroom. Students should think about the reasons behind their choices and their composition. Ask them to write these reasons down in their journal for use later in an artist's statement. Post the list of criteria for a still-life painting, which was generated in Lesson 1, on the wall to guide students in this step.

3. Have students paint their still-life arrangement using watercolor paints. Circulate among students as they work and engage them in discussion about the challenges posed by the medium and their subject. Through conversation, help them to articulate their artistic choices.

4. For homework, have students write a rough draft of an artist's statement in their journals. The statement should address personal and formal (compositional) choices they made while creating their still lifes. The statements should address the list of criteria for a still-life painting developed in class and also answer the following questions:
1) Why did you choose these objects?
2) What do the objects symbolize for you?
3) Explain why you arranged the objects the way you did.

Dragonfly, Pear / Hoefnagel
Dragonfly, Pear, Carnation, and Insect, Joris Hoefnagel, about 1591–1596


Students should be able to do the following:
• Recognize that artists make personal choices, even when creating realistic artworks.
• Use watercolor paints.
• Convey an illusion of three-dimensional form and space in a watercolor painting.
• Articulate, in writing and orally, their own motivations and choices as artists.
• Describe and analyze art images in written and oral form using new vocabulary words.


Have students select one still-life painting from the Getty Museum and write an artist's statement in the voice of the artist who created it. The statement should address the following questions:
• Why did the artist choose this subject?
• How did the artist compose elements in the painting? Why?
• What is the theme of the painting? Is there any symbolic meaning to the painting, or the objects within it?

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

Text Types and Purposes
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Visual Arts Content 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.
Impact of Media Choice
1.5 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work.

2.0 Creative Expression
Skills, Processes, Materials, and Tools
2.1 Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design.
2.4 Review and refine observational drawing skills.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Derive Meaning
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
Make Informed Judgments
4.4 Articulate the process and rationale for refining and reworking one of their own works of art.
4.5 Employ the conventions of art criticism in writing and speaking about works of art.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education

Grades 9-12

1.Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
a. Apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.
b. Conceive and create works of visual art that demonstrate an understanding of how the communication of their ideas relates to the media, techniques, and processes they use.

2. Using knowledge of structures and functions
a. Demonstrate the ability to form and defend judgments about the characteristics and structures to accomplish commercial, personal, communal, or other purposes of art.
c. Create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.

3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
a. Reflect on how artworks differ visually, spatially, temporally, and functionally.