Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
1–2 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom


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Analyzing Photographs
CA State Standards Chart (RTF, 223KB)
National Standards Chart (RTF, 181KB)
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Lesson Overview

Students will learn the basic tools for analyzing images using description, reflection, and formal analysis.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
• work in teams to interpret and analyze an assigned work of art.
• write responses to the work of art that will demonstrate an understanding of description, reflection, and formal analysis.

Materials

• Images of photographs, listed below
• Information in the Analyzing Photographs section of this curriculum
• Background Information and Questions for Teaching on each artwork (see links below)
• Student Handout: Understanding Formal Analysis—Elements of Art
• Student Handout: Understanding Formal Analysis—Principles of Design
• Writing paper, pencils, pens, or a computer

Lesson Steps

1. Choose a photograph that works best with your curricular goals. Using the image Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland as an example, introduce the basic concepts of description, reflection, and formal analysis, as described in Analyzing Photographs, by modeling these methods for the students. Distribute copies of the student handouts Elements of Art and Principles of Design. These resources will help students to process the new vocabulary and concepts. Model the processes of description, reflection, and formal analysis, explaining each method to the class. The discussion of formal analysis may require extra time and explanation since it will introduce new vocabulary to students. Explain each of the elements of art and principles of design and demonstrate where each appears in the image.

You can also show photographs created by Los Angeles students and have your students describe, reflect, and analyze the photographs.

2. Students will now analyze an image by working in small groups. If you would like the class to focus on a particular work of art, choose one photograph and display it for the class. If you would like the students to focus broadly on the processes of analysis, give each group a different photograph to examine.

3. Give students time to quietly examine the image. Emphasize the importance of close looking and thoroughly cataloguing the details in a work of art. Prompt students to write objective descriptions of the photograph. Ask students to share their responses with their group. Discuss how a work of art changes when you look closely.

4. When students have completed their written descriptions, they should reflect on their image. Ask students to consider how the image makes them feel or how the artist may have intended the audience to react. Ask students to share their answers with their groups.

5. Share the Background Information and Questions for Teaching about the image with the class, and ask students to reconsider the image in light of the new information. Ask students to discuss how the background information affects their interpretation of the image and to share their answers with their groups.

6. Ask students to refer to their copies of the student handouts Elements of Art and Principles of Design. Remind students that not all of the elements and principles will be obvious in each image. Some of the elements and principles will be more strongly represented than others. Ask students to choose three elements of art and three principles of design and record where and how each appears in the image. Ask students to share their answers with their groups.

7. Finally, ask students to consider how each method of analysis enhanced their understanding of the image and to share their answers with their groups.

Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam / Gardner
Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland, Alexander Gardner, October 2, 1862

Assessment

Teacher
Observation of student discussion and small groups for inclusion of the following:
• Demonstration of close looking skills
• Application of the three methods of visual analysis

Peer
Evaluation of written assignment for:
• Demonstration of close looking skills
• Application of the three methods of visual analysis
• Ability to use the vocabulary of the elements of art and principles of design to conduct formal analysis and apply it to an image

Self
Students should be able to articulate in discussion and through written assignment:
• The three methods of visual analysis and how each can contribute to a greater understanding of a work of art
• The vocabulary of formal analysis and an understanding of how it can be applied to an image

Standards Addressed

Refer to the charts for national and California state standards for this curriculum, found in the links at the top right of this page.