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 paint the same still-life arrangement from Lesson 2, but in an opaque medium. They compare similarities and differences of working with the transparent and opaque mediums and refine their artist's statements.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• identify and analyze the characteristics of European still-life paintings.
• identify similarities and differences between their own work and that of other painters.
• use various opaque medium techniques to create a painting.
• paint from direct observation.
• create the illusion of three-dimensional space and form using an opaque medium.
• compare and contrast compositions.
• use new vocabulary related to still-life painting.
• outline their own goals and choices as artists in a written statement.


• Opaque mediums such as oil, acrylic, or tempera paint; paper or canvas; brushes; and selected tools appropriate for the medium (palette knives, paint thinner, rags, etc.)
• Journals for note taking and sketching
• Objects for creating still-life arrangements: pottery, glassware, fruit and vegetables, shells, flowers, etc.
• Objects brought in to the classroom by students
• Images of still-life paintings from the Getty Museum's 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 examples of still lifes painted in both transparent and opaque mediums from the Getty Museum's collection. Compare and contrast the visual effect of the two different mediums.

2. Demonstrate techniques for painting with an opaque medium using the same still-life arrangement you used for the watercolor demonstration in Lesson 1. Talk about the differences in the mediums as you work, encouraging discussion and input from your students as you make choices in the painting process.

3. Distribute the materials for painting with an opaque medium. Tell students to use the same still-life arrangement and composition that they painted in watercolors and create a new version in the opaque medium.

4. Circulate among the students and encourage them to reflect on the similarities and differences between opaque and transparent mediums as they work.

5. After they have finished their second paintings, have students write about the similarities and differences between the two still lifes—the one in watercolors and the one in an opaque medium—in their journals. Students should consider the effect of the different mediums on the paintings.

6. For homework, students will write a final draft of their artist's statement, adapting it to include the painting in an opaque medium. Follow your usual writing and revising process. Tell the students that their statements will be displayed at the end of the unit along with their paintings.

Still Life / Chardin
Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts, Jean-Siméon Chardin, about 1760


Students should be able to do the following:
• Paint a still life in an opaque medium.
• Use an opaque medium to convey the illusion of three-dimensional form and space in a painting.
• Use vocabulary about still lifes and opaque painting mediums to describe, compare, contrast, and analyze art images in written and oral form.
• Define the concepts of space and form, and transparent and opaque.
• Participate in discussions and write about their personal preferences and motivations behind their choice of subject matter and composition.


Have students choose one of the artist's statements below and interpret its meaning. Students should answer the question, "How does this quotation apply to my own experience painting still lifes, and to my finished still-life paintings?"

"After having spent years in striving to be accurate, we must spend as many more in discovering when and how to be inaccurate." —Samuel Butler, English writer

"Art is life seen through a temperament." —Émile Zola, French novelist

"Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful—as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony. To say to the painter, that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player, that he may sit on the piano." —James McNeill Whistler, American painter

"The same objects appear straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colors to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the art of painting in light and shadow, the art of conjuring, and many other ingenious devices impose, having an effect upon us like magic." —Plato, ancient Greek philosopher

"Art is a harmony parallel to nature." —Paul Cézanne, French painter

"Art is a delayed echo." —George Santayana, American philosopher and poet

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.
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.4 Analyze and describe how the composition of a work of art is affected by the use of a particular principle of design.
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.
Communication and Expression Through Original Works of Art
2.5 Create an expressive composition, focusing on dominance and subordination.

Derive Meaning
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.
b. Evaluate the effectiveness of artworks in terms of organizational structures and functions.
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, and describe how these are related to history and culture.

5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
a. Identify intentions of those creating artworks, explore the implications of various purposes, and justify their analyses of purposes in particular works.
b. Describe meanings of artworks by analyzing how specific works are created and how they relate to historical and cultural contexts.
c. Reflect analytically on various interpretations as a means for understanding and evaluating works of visual art.