Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
Two class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom


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Lesson Overview

Students will analyze the sculpture Head with Horns by Paul Gauguin through objective and subjective writing activities and class discussion. They will then consider the meaning of this sculpture and examine the differences between objective and subjective analysis.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• explain the differences between objective and subjective writing, when writing about an art object.
• consider a work of art within the context of the artist's life.
• develop opinions about a work of art.
• chart the changes in their own opinions about a work of art—from their first impressions, to understanding the ways that their acquired knowledge about the work of art affects new interpretations.
• explore the meaning of the word savage within the contexts of Paul Gauguin's works of art and historical and contemporary attitudes and beliefs.

Materials

• Image of Head with Horns by Paul Gauguin
• Pen or pencil and paper

Lesson Steps

1. Begin by displaying an image of the front view of Head with Horns by Paul Gauguin. Ask students to write down their initial thoughts about the work.

2. Explain to students that they are now going to learn about objective versus subjective analysis through writing about a work of art. Begin by discussing as a class what the terms objective and subjective mean.

3. Next, show students the image of the back of the sculpture (available in the Image Bank information, in the Materials section above), and have them write a paragraph describing what they see. Ask students to begin by writing only things they can see, as discussed earlier when defining objective writing. At this point they will just look for details to describe, and try to avoid forming any opinions or interpretations.

4. Reintroduce the image of the front view of Head with Horns. Have students write another, longer objective paragraph (at least six sentences) describing what they see on the front of the sculpture.

5. Discuss as a group the students' descriptions of the sculpture.

6. After discussing what students have written about what they see in the sculpture, explain that some art scholars who study the work of Paul Gauguin believe that this sculpture includes some of the artist's own facial features. The sculpture could possibly be a self-portrait of Gauguin. As a class, or as part of a computer lab assignment, ask students to find self-portraits by Paul Gauguin on the Internet.

7. Discuss whether students agree with the scholars that there is a resemblance between the sculpture and Gauguin's self portraits.

8. Have the students return to their writing. This time, ask them to speculate subjectively about what they think Gauguin might have wanted to communicate when making this sculpture. Tell students that they should use visual evidence to support their opinions.

9. Next, refer to the biographical information about Paul Gauguin, available in the Image Bank, or by clicking on the image in the Materials section above. Discuss some of the aspects of Gauguin's life and work with students, and speculate on the impulses behind his work. Call to their attention the fact that Gauguin thought of himself as a "savage." What do you think he meant by that?

10. Have students return to their own subjective writings about the sculpture. Ask them to re-read their own analyses and then compare what they have learned about Paul Gauguin and his life with their own earlier interpretations. Gauguin said of his own work:
• "In order to do something new we must go back to the source, to humanity in its infancy."
• "I have tried to make everything breathe in this painting: belief, passive suffering, religious and primitive style, and the great nature with its scream."
• "To me, barbarism is a rejuvenation."

Discuss the following:
• Would you classify Gauguin's comments as subjective, or objective?
• What do you think these quotations reveal about Gauguin and his ideas about art?
• How do you think these comments relate to Gauguin's vision of himself as a "savage" untamed by civilized society?

Gauguin did not lead a conventional life. He abandoned his job as a banker and his wife and five children in the early 1880s in order to turn his full attention to painting. He would later remove himself further from modern Europe by traveling to the South Pacific island of Tahiti in 1891, and to the Marquesas in 1895. Head with Horns could be Gauguin's representation of himself as a savage. In this way, he may have been revealing a part of his character through his art.

11. Have students research the term savage. They should write down the definitions they find and answer the following questions:
• What does the word savage mean to us today?
• What do you think the word may have meant in Gauguin's time? Have students research the etymology of the word.
• Why is this term so controversial today, when it is used to describe people?

12. Revisit students' initial thoughts about this sculpture, recorded in their objective and subjective writings, in a class discussion.
• Were your initial thoughts subjective or objective?
• How has research and discussion about the sculpture changed your initial perceptions about it?

Head with Horns / Gauguin
Head with Horns, Paul Gauguin, 1895–1897

Assessment

Students will be assessed on their understanding of objective vs. subjective writing, writing assignments in complete paragraphs, participation in class discussion, and research of the use of the word savage.

Extensions

"May the day come soon when I'll be myself in the woods of an ocean island! To live there in ecstasy, calmness, and art...There in Tahiti I shall be able to listen to the sweet murmuring music of my heart's beating in the silence of the beautiful tropical nights." —Paul Gauguin

From Gauguin's own writing we can interpret that he valued his time in the South Pacific. Have students write about a trip that changed them. What was it about the trip that had such an impact on their life? Was it the place? Or was it the activities they participated in? The people they met? Have them reflect on how the experience impacted their life.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12, proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.3 Research and analyze the work of an artist and write about the artist's distinctive style and its contribution to the meaning of the work.
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.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
Diversity of the Visual Arts
3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Derive Meaning
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

English—Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9—10
Reading
Vocabulary and Concept Development
1.1 Identify and use the literal and figurative meanings of words and understand word derivations.

Writing
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write biographical or autobiographical narratives or short stories:
c. Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene and the specific actions, movements, gestures, and feelings of the characters; use interior monologue to depict the characters' feelings.
2.3 Write expository compositions, including analytical essays and research reports:
b. Convey information and ideas from primary and secondary sources accurately and coherently.

Grades 11—12
Reading
1.1 Trace the etymology of significant terms used in political science and history.
Vocabulary and Concept Development
1.3 Discern the meaning of analogies encountered, analyzing specific comparisons as well as relationships and inferences.

Writing
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write fictional, autobiographical, or biographical narratives:
c. Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene and the specific actions, movements, gestures, and feelings of the characters; use interior monologue to depict the characters' feelings.
e. Make effective use of descriptions of appearance, images, shifting perspectives, and sensory details.
2.3 Write reflective compositions:
a. Explore the significance of personal experiences, events, conditions, or concerns by using rhetorical strategies (e.g., narration, description, exposition, persuasion).

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–10
Reading
1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Writing
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Language
4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9–10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Grades 11–12
Reading
1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Writing
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Language
4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11–12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.