Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
1–2 class periods, homework
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 is the first lesson in a sequential unit. Students review the elements of art by studying a reproduction of a work of art they will see on their museum visit in Lesson 2. Students prepare for their trip to the museum by researching the work of art and speculating about the museum's motivation for collecting it. Students also review appropriate museum behavior.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• explain the difference between looking at a reproduction of a work of art and looking at the original.
• identify the elements of art in a work of art.
• understand the various roles of a museum.


• A reproduction of the work of art your class will view on their museum visit in Lesson 2.
• Reproductions of other works by the same artist.
• Definitions of the elements of art
• Blank paper for note taking
• Short activity: Protecting Art for Future Generations

Lesson Steps

• Make an appointment to take your class to your local art museum. Information about how to do so is often available on the museum's website, or by calling its education department.

Request a school visit to the Getty Museum on this website: Planning a School Visit.

• Select one work of art in the museum's collection for the focus of these three lessons. If possible, select a work by an artist who is represented by several works in the museum. You should confirm that the work of art will be on view for your visit. The museum's education department should be able to do this for you. Acquire a slide, transparency, or poster of the focus work to display in your classroom. If you are coming to the Getty Museum, you can also print out color copies from pages on our website: Art.

1. In your classroom, display a reproduction of the artwork you have chosen to focus on. Ask students to take a few minutes to write down their first reactions to the image. Tell students they can write whatever comes to mind about the work of art and can include any questions they have.

2. After they have written some observations, provide students with descriptions of the elements of art. Ask each student to choose one of their written observations and relate it to one of the elements of art. Have students write down one or two sentences that describe how the artist used an element of art to create the effect they observed. For example, while looking at Gerrit van Honthorst's painting Christ Crowned with Thorns a student may have observed that the work of art is gloomy or mysterious. He or she could write about how the artist used dark colors to create that effect.

3. Discuss how the artist used the elements of art in the work by soliciting the students' written observations about each element of art. Chart the responses for each element of art. Ask questions to prompt students to find increasingly more complicated uses of the elements of art. For example, in this painting by Honthorst, you might ask:
• Find examples of repeating shapes or lines in the composition. What effect does this "echoing" of form have?
• Find an example of contrasting texture depicted in this scene. How does the artist use texture to suggest aspects of the figures' character?
• How would you describe the overall palette of this work? What hues and shades of color emerge as you look at it?

4. Ask students to consider the differences between the reproduction they are looking at and the original work of art by asking questions that can only be answered by seeing the original work of art. Make it clear to the students that when looking at a reproduction, they can only speculate about certain aspects of the original. The aim of this exercise is to illustrate that reproductions are not substitutes for the original work. Questions might include:
• How big is the original work of art?
• What do you imagine the surface of this work is like? (rough, smooth, sharp, cold)
• How might the impact of this work change as you change your physical vantage point?
• What types of artworks do think will be exhibited near this work of art? What characteristics do you think they might share with this work?

Record responses to these questions and revisit them in the next lesson, in front of the original work of art.

5. Show reproductions of other artworks by the same artist and have students compare the use of the elements of art by the same artist. Include artworks for which the artist is best known, and which underscore the artist's unique approach or style. Ask students to identify the common use of elements of art they see in five to ten artworks. Chart student responses using the elements of art to organize.

Optional: You can weave biographical and historical information about the artist into this discussion.

6. Divide students into small groups and ask them to discuss what they think the role of a museum is within society. Why do museums collect works of art? Small groups should relate their responses to the class. Chart responses about the following roles of an art museum:
• Preserving history
• Preserving rare or valuable objects
• Educating the public about the history of art
• Furthering scholarship about art
• Promoting creativity and artistic expression
• Providing communities with opportunities for social interaction and entertainment

7. Help students recognize that museums want to protect works of art for the future. The pre-visit activity Protecting Art for Future Generations will help students understand why we ask them not to touch works of art in a museum. Stress the following two points:

a. Works of art can be damaged when well-meaning people point at a work of art with a finger, pencil, or map and accidentally touch the surface. Students' bracelets, pocketbooks, or backpacks can accidentally scratch the surface of works of art. This is why we ask them not to get too close, not to point things at works of art, and to leave their large backpacks on the bus or at the coat check.

b. When security guards in a museum warn a visitor about getting too close to a work of art, they are doing their job to help preserve the art so that future generations can enjoy it.

8. For Homework: Ask students to research the work of art they will see on their museum visit, and the artist who created it, using the museum's website, encyclopedias, or other available tools. In a short (1–2 page) essay, students should summarize important information about the work and speculate about why the museum collected this particular artwork. If the museum owns other artworks by the artist, they should speculate about why the museum owns more than one work by this artist.

Tell students to bring this report to the museum in the next lesson. They will be asked to report on their research in the museum in Lesson 2.

Information about works of art and artists in the Getty Museum are available on this website: Art.

Christ Crowned / Honthorst
Christ Crowned with Thorns, Gerrit van Honthorst, 1620

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

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.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

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

Grade 6

1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and describe all the elements of art found in selected works of art (color, shape/form, line, texture, space, and value).
1.2 Discuss works of art as to theme, genre, style, idea, and differences in media.

Grade 7
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Describe the environment and selected works of art, using the elements of art and the principles of design.
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.4 Analyze and describe how the elements of art and the principles of design contribute to the expressive qualities of their own works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.

Grade 8
1.0 Artistic Perception
Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.

Grades 9–12 Proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
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.

English—Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 8

1.0 Writing Strategies
1.5 Achieve an effective balance between researched information and original ideas.

2.3 Write research reports:
b. Record important ideas, concepts, and direct quotations from significant information sources and paraphrase and summarize all perspectives on the topic, as appropriate.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education

Grades 5–8

Content Standard #2: Using knowledge of structures and functions
Achievement Standard: Students integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in artworks. Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.