Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson

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 Plans

Lesson Overview

This lesson is part of a sequential unit. Students are tested on what they learned about the history of ceramic forms in "Ceramics: A Vessel into History—Lesson 1." They start work on a personal clay vessel that has a specific use or meaning in their contemporary culture, which could be discerned through study by future archeologists and art historians.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• recognize various ceramic forms created in different time periods and cultures.
• identify how ceramic artworks reflect specific concerns and intentions of an artist and his or her culture.
• use new vocabulary words to describe and analyze works of art created with clay, including clay-construction terms and techniques.
• explain how our assumptions affect how we assign value and significance to artworks.


• Journals for note taking and sketches
• Colored pencils for sketching
• Clay materials and equipment for demonstration
• Information from for each object, printed out for use by small groups
• Images of ceramic objects. Below are suggested objects for this unit. Click on thumbnails for brief historical information. Additional research may be added and other works may be substituted.

Lesson Steps

1. Assess comprehension from "Ceramics: A Vessel into History-Lesson 1" in a written or oral test. Students should be able to identify the culture that created the artworks studied in Lesson 1 and place the artworks on a timeline.

2. With the class, discuss the roles of the archaeologist and art historian. Ask them questions such as:
• Who studies and writes about works of art made many years ago?
• What does an archeologist do?
• What is archaeology?
• What does an art historian do?
• What is art history?
Record student answers on the board or a large sheet of paper.
Note: Career information can be introduced here with insight into useful areas of study for students interested in pursuing these careers.

3. Discuss the process of hypothesizing and making informed guesses. Challenge students to list aspects of a ceramic vessel that could provide clues about an earlier culture (function, construction technique, shape, surface quality and decoration, etc.).

4. Review vocabulary related to clay-building and demonstrate techniques, including coil, slab, stamping, incising, piercing, and adding-on.

5. Introduce the art-making assignment by posing the following scenario to the class:
"Future archaeologists and art historians will find many objects that give clues about the culture in which we live. Create an art form that could provide such clues in the future. The form must be a clay vessel that expresses meaning from our contemporary culture."

Have students describe the following aspects of the vessel they plan to create in their journals:
• function: What will your vessel be used for?
• construction technique: What technique will you use to construct your vessel?
• shape: What shape will your vessel be? How does the shape make the vessel useful for its function?
• surface quality and decoration: How will you decorate your vessel?
• symbolic elements: Describe any symbols or symbolic elements you plan to include.

6. For homework, ask students to think about and sketch a design for their clay vessels.

Black-Figure Cup / Ptr Copenhagen 103
Black-Figure Komast Cup, Painter of Copenhagen 103, about 580–575 B.C.


Students should be able to do the following:
• Place historical artworks into chronological order.
• Recognize the cultural origins of artworks.
• Demonstrate knowledge of clay construction and decoration techniques.
• Use appropriate vocabulary in discussion and writing.
• Successfully complete a written description of their artwork and a sketch of their proposed design.


Teach your students about the merging of European and East Asian forms in the 18th century. The curriculum below includes a lesson about Chinese and Japanese porcelain adapted to new uses and forms by Europeans.

Asian Influences on European Art

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

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.

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
Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
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, including their own.

2.0 Creative Expression
Creating, Performing, and Participating in the Visual Arts
2.1 Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
Role and Development of the Visual Arts
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.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
Connecting and Applying What Is Learned in the Visual Arts to Other Art Forms and Subject Areas and to Careers
5.4 Demonstrate an understanding of the various skills of an artist, art critic, art historian, art collector, art gallery owner, and philosopher of art (aesthetician).

National Standards for Visual Arts Education

Grades 9–12

1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
a. Apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.
b. Conceive and create works of visual art that demonstrate an understanding of how the communication of their ideas relates to the media, techniques, and processes they use.

2. Using knowledge of structures and functions
c. Create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.

3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
a. Reflect on how artworks differ visually, spatially, temporally, and functionally, and describe how these are related to history and culture.

4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
c. Analyze relationships of works of art to one another in terms of history, aesthetics, and culture, justifying conclusions made in the analysis and using such conclusions to inform their own art making.

5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
b. Describe meanings of artworks by analyzing how specific works are created and how they relate to historical and cultural contexts.