Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 1–2 class periods

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 look at works of art that convey the idea of working together and think about how artists use space—foreground, middle ground, and background—to communicate this concept. In groups they use their knowledge of space to create a three-dimensional tableau that communicates the concept of working together.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• describe how artists visually communicate the idea of working together.
• identify the use of line, shape, color, and space in works of art.
• describe and identify foreground, middle ground, and background in a work of art.
• create a cooperative art project.
• use two- and three-dimensional materials to create a work of art that demonstrates an understanding of space.
• use overlapping in their artwork to convey a sense of space.


• White and colored construction paper, crayons, Magic Markers, scissors, glue, various sizes of one-inch thick Styrofoam sheets, toothpicks, and Popsicle sticks
• Works of art showing figures that are working together on some level, and which have a clear foreground, middle ground, and background. Below are examples.

Lesson Steps

1. Have students look at each image quietly for a couple of seconds. Then place the images next to each other, and ask students to compare what they see:
• How are these images different?
• How are these images similar?
Discuss similarities and differences in subject matter: between time of day and place depicted, how many people are depicted, what type of work the people are doing, and what the people are wearing.

You should also compare the elements of art used in each work of art (shapes, lines, color, space).
• Compare the colors you see in each image. Is one image more colorful than another?
• What kinds of lines do you see? Does one image have more horizontal or vertical lines?
• Describe and compare the space depicted in each image. Do you feel like you are close to the people in the picture? Or far away?
• What things overlap one another in the picture? What things cover others in the picture?

2. Explain to students that artists can create a sense of space in pictures by creating a foreground, middle ground, and background. Point out these three areas in each of the images. Ask students what the people in the three distinct spaces are doing together. Reinforce the idea that all of the artworks illustrate the idea of working together.

For example, in The Drawing Lesson there are objects lying on the floor in the foreground such as a guitar, a basket, a painting, a trunk, etc.; in the middle ground, a woman sits on a chair while a man writes something on a piece of paper; and in the background, behind the hanging tapestry, you see into another room where an easel and a violin are hanging on the wall. The artist placed the two people close together in the middle ground to show they are working together. Their heads are close together and their eyes are focused on the same piece of paper.

3. Once the artworks have been discussed in their visual terms, provide some historical information. Reinforce the idea that all of the artworks illustrate the idea of working together.

4. Tell students that they will use paper, Styrofoam, and Popsicle sticks to create a three-dimensional scene that expresses the concept of "working together." Their scene should include a foreground, middle ground, and background.

Demonstrate by cutting an image of a tree, animal, figure, or chair out of a piece of paper, attaching it to a Popsicle stick or toothpick, and pushing it into the Styrofoam to make it stand up. Students can also cut images out of magazines.

5. Break students into small working groups and have them choose a subject for their scene by considering this question: What sorts of projects do you enjoy working on with your family or friends? (working in the garden, preparing for an outing, washing the car, etc.)

Once students have discussed possible working-together themes, help the groups decide which theme to represent in their art project.

6. Before students create their scenes as a group, help them with the following goals:
• What are we going to show in our scene? (gardening, cooking, cleaning, getting ready for a trip, etc.)
• Who are the people that will be working together in our scene?
• Help students find aesthetic reasons for the decisions they will make as a group: What sorts of things should be included? How will you show the idea of working together? Which things or figures should be in the foreground, middle ground, and background?

7. As students work on their scenes, you can suggest ways to divide the labor. Each person in each group should contribute a figure or other imagery to the scene. For example, each student could make one figure and one part of the environment.
• Help students place the objects in their picture. Talk about the effect of overlapping images.
• Help students decide when they have included enough images in their scenes.

8. Set the completed group scenes up around the classroom. Have each group tell the class what their scene is about and describe the elements that are in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

Drawing Lesson / Steen
The Drawing Lesson, Jan Steen, 1665


Students should be able to do the following:
• Identify how artists represent the idea of "working together" in a visual work of art.
• Demonstrate that they understand how artists use spatial relationships through foreground, middle ground, and background by using these tools in their own work.
• Work cooperatively in small groups.


Do a class project in which each group creates a small element that becomes part of a larger classroom scene (such as a circus or a village).

Have students read The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades K–2

K.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
K.4 Describe familiar people places, things, and events, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.
1.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
1.4 Describe familiar people places, things, and events, with relative details expressing ideas and feelings more clearly.
2.3 Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.
2.4 Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audible in coherent sentences.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Artist Perception
1.3 Identify the elements of art (line, color, shape/form, texture, value, space) in the environment and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, and shape/form.

Creative Expression
2.4 Paint pictures expressing ideas about family and neighborhood.
2.6 Use geometric shapes/forms (circle, triangle, square) in a work of art.
2.7 Create a three-dimensional form, such as a real or imaginary animal.

Historical and Cultural Context
3.2 Identify and describe works of art that show people doing things together.
3.3 Look at and discuss works of art from a variety of times and places.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Describe what is seen (including both literal and expressive content) in selected works of art.

Grade 1
Artistic Perception
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, and texture.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Discuss works of art created in the classroom, focusing on selected elements of art (e.g., shape/form, texture, line, color).

Grade 2
Artistic Expression
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, the environment, and works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, and space.

Creative Expression
2.3 Depict the illusion of depth (space) in a work of art, using overlapping shapes, relative size, and placement within the picture.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Use the vocabulary of art to talk about what they wanted to do in their own works of art and how they succeeded.
4.4 Use appropriate vocabulary of art to describe the successful use of an element of art in a work of art.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education

Grades K–4

Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

Using knowledge of structures and functions Students use visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas.

Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
Students select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning.