Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three to four class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Image Bank
About Contemporary Art
Glossary (RTF-38KB)

Lesson Overview

Students will explore contemporary artist John Baldessari's mixed-media work of art inspired by a 16th-century drawing of a beetle. After writing a story about a bug's journey, each student will create a mixed-media representation of a bug that is inspired by the contemporary artist's work.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• examine and analyze a drawing of a beetle.
• discuss the characteristics of a beetle, and of other insects.
• write a story from a bug's perspective, incorporating sensory details and a conflict that the bug must overcome.
• compare a modern artwork with the 16th-century drawing that inspired it.
• create a three-dimensional work, using mixed media that illustrates their own stories.
• devise creative ways to display their works.


• Image of Stag Beetle by Albrecht Dürer
• Image of Specimen (After Dürer) by John Baldessari
• Paper (different sizes and types)
• Colored pencils
• Sculpting tools
• Self-hardening clay (e.g., Crayola® Model Magic®)

Lesson Steps

Note: Words in bold below are defined in the glossary for this curriculum (see "For the Classroom" links above).

1. Begin by leading a discussion about Albrecht Dürer's drawing Stag Beetle using the suggested "Questions for Teaching" found in the Image Bank, or by clicking the image in the Materials section above.

2. Tell students that all insects are composed of three parts: a head, thorax, and abdomen. Point out the three parts in Dürer's drawing. After examining the drawing, go on a nature walk in the school yard to look for other types of insects. If possible, have students collect bugs they find outside then look at them under a microscope. Have each student observe an insect and its movements. Ask them if they think Dürer's beetle looks real. Point out that Dürer created the image of the bug before microscopes were invented.

3. Reintroduce Dürer's drawing, and point out that the work of art is representational. Examine how Dürer used color and shading to make the beetle look realistic. Point out that the artist used shading to make the beetle seem three-dimensional. Have students draw the bugs they collected. Their drawings should include a head, thorax, and abdomen. Using colored pencils, students should color their bugs as Dürer did. Have them create shading by applying darker colors and/or by applying color more densely to create darker areas. To create lighter areas, students should use lighter colors, and/or apply color less densely.

4. Return to the image of Dürer's Stag Beetle. How did the artist make the beetle look like it is moving? Ask students where they think the bug is going. Tell students to work with a partner to come up with some adventures that may happen on the bug's journey. After giving students five minutes to brainstorm, have them share their ideas with the class.

5. Direct students to look at their own drawings of bugs. Instruct each student to write a narrative story about the bug's journey, from the bug's perspective. Ask them to write about some adventures that may happen on their bugs' journeys. Instruct students to use as many sensory details as they can by asking themselves, "What does the bug hear, see, taste, smell, and touch along the journey?"

6. In the next class period, discuss how artists often use works made by artists living before them as inspiration. Display Dürer's Stag Beetle again, and point out to students that they themselves may have been inspired by Dürer when creating their own drawings.

Introduce the word contemporary and ask students what they think it might mean. Have students discuss with a partner what they think the phrase contemporary may mean. Explain that a contemporary artist named John Baldessari was inspired by Dürer's 16th-century drawing.

7. Display an image of Baldessari's Specimen (After Dürer). Lead a discussion about the artwork using the "Questions for Teaching" found in the Image Bank or by clicking the image in the Materials section above. Discuss the similarities and differences between Baldessari's work and the drawing by Dürer.

8. Point out that John Baldessari is very interested in chance. In one of his works, he made photographs of four red balls that were thrown in the air 36 times to see if, by chance, they would form a square in the sky. He attempted the feat 36 times because the roll of film he used contained 36 negatives.

Have students think about the idea of chance, and revisit their stories to rewrite new endings, using ideas introduced by John Baldessari's work. Direct each student to choose an everyday object to insert into the end of their stories. Ask them, "What kind of chance encounter will your insect have with an every day object (as Baldessari's beetle did)? What kind of obstacles will it have to overcome? Will it succeed?"

9. Talk about how Baldessari used mixed media to create his work. Working from a transparency of Dürer's small drawing, Baldessari created a 14 1/2 x 11 1/2-foot enlargement of the image on canvas. The canvas is mounted to the wall with a gigantic metal T-pin. He created a three-dimensional work inspired by a two-dimensional drawing. Ask students what kinds of mediums they could use to illustrate their stories. What mediums could they use to tell their stories in three dimensions?

10. Provide students with self-hardening clay (e.g., Crayola® Model Magic®). Give students a few minutes to play with the medium to better understand it by pulling, stretching, rolling, etc. Provide them with different kinds of tools (such as toothpicks and plastic forks) to guide them in making impressions on the clay.

11. After students experiment with the clay, instruct them to create sculptures of the everyday objects that they inserted into the endings of their stories. Remind the class that Baldessari plays with scale in Specimen (After Dürer) by taking a 5 9/16 x 4 1/2 in. drawing and enlarging it to 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 feet. Have students take out their drawings of bugs. Ask students to consider what the scale of the everyday objects should be in relation to their bug drawings. Then, challenge students to combine their three-dimensional object with their drawings in an interesting, creative way. (For example, students could glue the objects onto the paper or pin them.)

12. Have some students present their stories and their works of art orally.

13. Tell students that John Baldessari is interested in displaying artworks in innovative ways by using objects that are not typically used by museums. Remind students that he used a gigantic pin to affix his beetle to the wall. Brainstorm as a class how students could display their works of art à la John Baldessari. Will they use clamps, staples, or another unconventional object? What are some challenges that Baldessari had to work with? (He had to think about the big scale of the canvas and the material of the steel pin.) Are they similar to some of the challenges that the students will have to face? Will the means of display be able to bear the weight of their three-dimensional works of art?

14. Create a museum gallery in the classroom. Have students take a gallery walk to see their peers' work. After viewing all of the works of art, have students think about whether there is anything they would change about their own displays.

Specimen / Baldessari
Specimen (After Dürer), John Baldessari, 2000

© 2000 John Baldessari
This work was commissioned for Departures: 11 Artists at the Getty, February 29–May 7, 2000, by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Assess students on their active participation in class discussions and the inclusion of a head, thorax, and abdomen in their drawings.

Assess each student's story based on the inclusion of sensory details and incorporation of a conflict or challenge.

Final works of art should be assessed based on students' creative solutions for combining a sculpture with a drawing, and devising a unique method for displaying their works.


For lower grades, have students divide into groups of three. Have one student be the head, one be the thorax, and one be the abdomen. The thorax and abdomen should put their hands on the shoulders of the student in front of them. Students can try to walk together in rhythm to show how insects have to coordinate these body parts (and six legs!). Students can also create an original, insect-inspired rhyme to help them keep rhythm.

For lower grades, look at the image of Dürer's Stag Beetle and discuss the different shapes in the drawing. Have students create collages of insects, using different shapes made from ripped paper.

For upper grades, make a chart and categorize or classify different types of insects. Identify insects that are local to your city/state.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 3–5

3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker or media source provides to support particular points.
4.6 Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
5.3 Summarize the points a speaker or media source makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence, and identify and analyze any logical fallacies.

3.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
4.4 Produce clear and coherent writing (including multiple-paragraph texts) in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3

1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Describe how artists use tints and shades in painting.
1.4 Compare and contrast two works of art made by the use of different art tools and media (e.g., watercolor, tempera, computer).

2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Create a work of art based on the observation of objects and scenes in daily life, emphasizing value changes.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Compare and describe various works of art that have a similar theme and were created at different time periods.
3.3 Distinguish and describe representational, abstract, and nonrepresentational works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Compare and contrast selected works of art and describe them, using appropriate vocabulary of art.

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

Grade 4

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Discuss how the subject and selection of media relate to the meaning or purpose of a work of art.

Grade 5

2.0 Creative Expression
2.5 Assemble a found object sculpture (as assemblage) or a mixed media two-dimensional composition that reflects unity and harmony and communicates a theme.
2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.4 View selected works of art from a major culture and observe changes in materials and styles over a period of time.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Develop and use specific criteria as individuals and in groups to assess works of art.
4.4 Assess their own works of art, using specific criteria, and describe what changes they would make for improvement.

Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3

Life Sciences
3.a Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.

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.

Listening and Speaking
2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Make narrative presentations.
2.3 Make descriptive presentations that use concrete sensory details to set forth and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Grade 4

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write narratives.

Listening and Speaking
2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Make narrative presentations.

Grade 5

1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Create multiple-paragraph narrative compositions.

2.0 Writing Applications
2.1 Write narratives.