Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three to four class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom

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About Contemporary Art
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Lesson Overview

Students will examine a contemporary video installation and a 17th-century Flemish painting and consider how artists use a specific medium to communicate ideas. They will then create a storyboard plan for their own video that depicts the key moments or scenes in the work.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• analyze and discuss a contemporary video installation.
• analyze and discuss a 17th-century Flemish painting.
• compare and contrast two different artistic mediums and discuss how each can help an artist achieve specific goals.
• explore different types of new media, including video, digital photography, and computer animation—as a means to create an artwork that communicates emotion.
• generate a storyboard sketch for, and plan the production of, a new-media work.


• Still photos of Bill Viola's video installation Emergence available on the Getty Museum's online exhibition Bill Viola: The Passions.
• Image of The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens
• Student Handout: Character Examination
• Large index cards, either 4 x 6- or 5 x 8-inch cards
• Pencils, colored pencils, markers, or ink pens
• Online video clip about Bill Viola's working process: Bill Viola at Work: Making The Passions Videos (optional. Note: This video contains nudity.)

Lesson Steps

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

1. View the still image of Bill Viola's video installation Emergence and lead a discussion about the photos using the suggested "Questions for Teaching," found in the Image Bank or by clicking on the image in the Materials section above.

2. Display an image of the painting The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens and cover the title of the painting. Pass out the Character Examination handout and encourage students to be creative about the human emotions represented in the story. After they have completed the handout, have students share their written observations about the gestures, poses, and facial expressions depicted in the painting.

Use the suggested "Questions for Teaching" to explore the painting with students. Ask students to identify the story, using the clues they observe as evidence for their explanations.

3. Use a Venn diagram to chart out the similarities and differences between Rubens's The Entombment and the still images from Viola's Emergence. Discuss the themes present in Viola's Emergence. These include time and space, the past and present, reality and artifice, and video as a medium. (Refer to the "Background Information" to guide your discussion.) You may also wish to have students view the video Bill Viola at Work: Making The Passions Videos. (Note: This video contains nudity.)

4. Tell students they will be creating their own plan for a video installation. (Depending on school or student resources, students might be able to create their own works of video art).

Ask students to research within the Getty Museum's collection online and choose one work of art that greatly inspires or interests them. Students will research the artworks they have chosen, then each will create a video, or a plan for a video, inspired by a story or theme that relates to the artwork.

5. Tell students that they will generate a series of four to eight images to visualize their video. This is called a storyboard. The storyboard allows students to plan and organize the setting and narrative in their videos. It should look like a large comic strip.

Pass out large index cards and drawing materials. Allow students to decide how many scenes will be in their storyboards. Have each student use a pencil to first sketch and plan the order of events in his or her video. Students can include text as dialogue and/or describe what is happening in each image. Encourage students to think about the types of settings and props they would like their characters to interact with.

6. After students have sketched their storyboards and decided on sequencing, ask them to finalize the drawings, using ink or colored pencils. Have students present their work to the group. Students should explain the following in their presentations: setting, characters, main events, and sequence of events.

7. Ask the students to change the sequence of events in their storyboards. Give them several minutes to rearrange their cards. Discuss how this revision changes the video. Does the video become strange, ridiculous, or comical when the order is moved around? Have students discuss their observations in small groups. Direct students to work together to rearrange storyboards and create new meanings. Ask them to consider how changing scenes around affects the message of the video. Have them choose which ending they prefer, and discuss why they prefer it.

8. Lead a discussion about the process of creating a storyboard for a video. What were students able to accomplish or convey in a series of images that could not be achieved in one image? Ask students to consider how making a video would be different from making a painting. How did the medium of video help Viola to convey emotions? How did the medium of painting help Rubens to convey emotions?

Emergence / Viola
Emergence, Bill Viola, 2002
© Bill Viola
This work was commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Assess students on their participation in class discussions and on their comparison of the two works of art. Their storyboards will be assessed on evidence of attention to character, props, setting, and sequencing.


If your school has the relevant software and equipment, have students shoot and edit their videos, using their storyboards as guides. Invite students to stage a viewing of their videos, generating discussion and a critique of the final work.

Middle school students create flipbooks to animate their storyboards or explore an emotion changing on a subject's face. Students can use smaller 3 x 5-inch index cards to depict a simple action or change in emotion. The sequence should be depicted in several cards so that the pose or expression of the character changes slightly with each successive card. Punch two holes in the index cards and fasten them together using brass fasteners. Flip through the pages of the book and watch the characters play out their story.

Students can also create flipbooks or storyboards using digital photographs. After creating quick sketches, students can take turns posing and acting out a sequence of events. Print out the photographs and either arrange them together to demonstrate the storyboard, or fasten them together to create a flipbook. Students can also create a PowerPoint presentation of their photographs.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

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
1.5 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work.
1.6 Compare and contrast similar styles of works of art done in electronic media with those done with materials traditionally used in the visual arts.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Review and refine observational drawing skills.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.2 Identify and describe the role and influence of new technologies on contemporary works of art.

Grades 9–12 (Advanced)

1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Discuss a series of their original works of art, using the appropriate vocabulary of art.
1.4 Research two periods of painting, sculpture, film, or other media and discuss their similarities and differences, using the language of the visual arts.
1.6 Describe the use of the elements of art to express mood in one or more of their works of art.
1.8 Analyze the works of a well-known artist as to the art media selected and the effect of that selection on the artist's style.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Create original works of art of increasing complexity and skill in a variety of media that reflect their feelings and points of view.
2.2 Plan and create works of art that reflect complex ideas, such as distortion, color theory, arbitrary color, scale, expressive content, and real versus virtual.
2.4 Demonstrate in their own works of art a personal style and an advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion.
2.6 Present a universal concept in a multimedia work of art that demonstrates knowledge of technology skills.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.3 Investigate and discuss universal concepts expressed in works of art from diverse cultures.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Describe the relationship involving the art maker (artist), the making (process), the artwork (product), and the viewer.
4.2 Identify the intentions of artists creating contemporary works of art and explore the implications of those intentions.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.2 Compare and contrast works of art, probing beyond the obvious and identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images.