Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
2–3 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


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Image Bank
Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment Overview
Timeline: Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment
California and National Standards Charts

Lesson Overview

Students will become familiar with the black-figure painting style of ancient Greece and its influence on Neoclassical artists during the 18th century, as seen in drawing, painting, and silhouettes, or shadow portraits. They will create an original work of art using the silhouette technique.

Learning Objectives

• Students will be able to use the technique of paper cutting.
• Students will create an original two-dimensional work of art that expresses a personal statement.
• Students will be able to explain how traditional art forms have been adapted from their original contexts to voice the experiences of a contemporary, multicultural society.


• Images of the artworks below
• Information about the artworks, found in the Image Bank
• Overhead projector
• Black construction paper or black paint and brushes
• Large sheets of white or light paper
• Clip lamp(s) or strong flashlight(s) or a window with bright sunlight
• Pencils
• Scissors or thin utility knife
• Images of artwork by 18th-century artists John Miers (1756–1821) or Auguste Edouart (1789–1861) and contemporary artist Kara Walker (b. 1969). Find images by searching their names on the Internet. Some suggested sites are:

John Miers at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Auguste Edouart at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kara Walker at the The Broad Art Foundation
Kara Walker at Art:21, art in the twenty-first century
A Kara Walker pop-up book is also included in the Getty's online exhibition Devices of Wonder

Lesson Steps

1. Set up one or more areas in the classroom for making silhouettes. To do this you will need for each area a chair placed sideways to the wall so that the sitter's head is in profile to the wall, sheets of white (or light, thin) paper larger than the head of the sitter, pencils, and a portable light source (flashlight or clip light).

2. Introduce the concept that Neoclassical artists were influenced in subject matter and technique by ancient Greek art to the class. Using an image of the Panathenaic Prize Amphora discuss black-figure painting history and technique, as outlined in the Image Bank. Use the Questions for Teaching from the Image Bank to guide the discussion.

3. Display images of Wright of Derby's painting and Suvée's drawing and emphasize the importance of the grieving widow-type to Neoclassical subject matter as a vehicle for expressing Enlightenment values of virtue, stoicism, duty, and loyalty (see Image Bank). Narrative Neoclassical art is characterized by its sense of moral clarity and didactics, and its use of classical art, philosophy, and literature as models. Duty to a higher cause, such as one's country or family, was emphasized.

4. Discuss the use of the silhouette in both these works of art. Compare and contrast silhouettes in the drawing and painting to black-figure vase imagery. Explain how the silhouettes in these works of art suggest, simultaneously, the presence and absence of Odysseus and Dibutade's lover.

5. Introduce images of shadow portraits or silhouettes by John Miers (1756–1821) or Auguste Edouart (1789–1861) to the class and discuss the popularity of this art form in the 18th century. (You can find images by both of these artists on the Internet.) Also introduce a modern example of this medium in the work of the contemporary artist Kara Walker.

6. Tell students that they will be creating shadow portraits of a classmate, and ask them to speculate on the procedure. How does one capture a silhouette?

7. Demonstrate the technique of capturing a silhouette using volunteers, and divide students into groups of three to draw each other's portraits.

8. Each group should tape or pin a sheet of white or light paper to the wall next to the chair at the height of the sitter's head and shoulders so that his or her profile fits within the paper. The sitter needs to remain still as another student shines light at his head, casting a shadow of his or her profile onto the paper. The third student then traces the sitter's profile carefully onto the paper using a pencil. Rotate positions so that each student gets an opportunity to sit and to draw.

Have each student take his or her own profile and transform the pencil drawing into a silhouette by either filling in the drawing with black paint or cutting the profile out and tracing the cutout onto black paper for the final cutout.

10. Embellish the painted or cut silhouettes, if desired, with details in gray paint in the manner of Miers.

11. Discuss where silhouettes can be found in today's contemporary culture. Many can be found in advertisements for products such as iPod, Nike's Air Jordan, Girl Scouts of America, and the National Basketball Association.

12. Students will pick someone who is a presence in their life, though absent. This might be a family member who resides elsewhere, a professional writer or athlete they greatly admire but do not know, or a deceased friend or relative. They should bring to class a photograph of this person, of any size and engaged in any action, from a family album or a magazine. Students may also write a short biography of the person to go with their artwork.

13. Photocopy or scan these pictures. Students will use the copies to generate silhouettes by cutting and tracing them onto black or light paper.

14. Mount the silhouettes on contrasting paper. Some options for mounting include the following:
• Painting a larger sheet of paper with a background onto which the silhouettes will be mounted, in the style of Kara Walker
• An oval format, using an oval mat in the style of 18th-century artists
• Students may want to have one silhouette in black and one smaller one in white and mount the white one onto the black one to symbolize the connection between both figures.

15. Have the students guess who the person depicted in each silhouette is. Students may write their guesses on post it notes or a piece of paper placed next to the artwork. As a class discuss the students' reasons for portraying a particular person in this format.

16. As a class, discuss how silhouette portraits differ from other techniques and types of images in their power to evoke emotions and symbolize qualities. Students should also discuss how abstraction and contrast impact the viewer in this type of expression.

Inventing Drawing / Suvée
The Invention of Drawing, Joseph-Benoît Suvée, about 1791


Observation of student discussion and activity for inclusion of the following:
• How time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
• Students' creation of a two-dimensional work of art that uses Neoclassical art as a springboard for their designs.
• Articulation of the theme of a work of art and demonstration of their understanding of the important ideas behind the Neoclassical style.
• Articulation of the importance of a chosen figure in their life and how this individual influenced the choices made in the creation of their work of art.
• Understanding and articulation of the use of contrast, symbolism, and abstraction in their assignments in comparison to other art forms.

Evaluation of peer artworks for:
• Likeness to the subject and expression of a relationship between the artist and subject.

Students should be able to articulate, in discussion and presentation of artwork:
• The importance of a chosen figure in their life and how this individual influenced their artistic choices.
• Understanding of the ideas behind the silhouette form.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

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 7
Artistic Perception
1.2 Identify and describe scale (proportion) as applied to two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art.
1.3 Identify and describe the ways in which artists convey the illusion of space (e.g., placement, overlapping, relative size, atmospheric perspective, and linear perspective).

Creative Expression
2.1 Develop increasing skill in the use of at least three different media.
2.5 Interpret reality and fantasy in original two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art.
2.7 Create a series of works of art that express a personal statement demonstrating skill in applying the elements of art and the principles of design.

Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Explain the intent of a personal work of art and draw possible parallels between it and the work of a recognized artist.
4.2 Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.
4.3 Take an active part in a small-group discussion about the artistic value of specific works of art, with a wide range of the viewpoints of peers being considered.
4.4 Develop and apply specific and appropriate criteria individually or in groups to assess and critique works of art.

Grade 8
Artistic Perception
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.

Creative Expression
2.1 Demonstrate an increased knowledge of technical skills in using more complex two-dimensional art media and processes (e.g., printing press, silk screening, computer graphics software).

Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Examine and describe or report on the role of a work of art created to make a social comment or protest social conditions.
3.2 Compare, contrast, and analyze styles of art from a variety of times and places in Western and non-Western cultures.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Develop a theory about the artist's intent in a series of works of art, using reasoned statements to support personal opinions.
4.3 Construct an interpretation of a work of art based on the form and content of the work.

Grades 9–12
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, including their own.
1.2 Describe the principles of design as used in works of art, focusing on dominance and subordination.

Creative Expression
2.1 Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design.
2.4 Review and refine observational drawing skills.
2.6 Create a two- or three-dimensional work of art that addresses a social issue.

Aesthetic Valuing
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.

National Standards for Visual Arts

Grades 5–8

Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
Students select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.
Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.

Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
Students generalize about the effects of visual structures and functions and reflect upon these effects in their own work.
Students employ organizational structures and analyze what makes them effective or not effective in the communication of ideas.
Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.

Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
Students integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in their artworks.
Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Students know and compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures.
Students describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts.
Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.

Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
Students compare multiple purposes for creating works of art.
Students analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.
Students describe and compare a variety of individual responses to their own artworks and to artworks from various eras and cultures.

Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
Students compare the characteristics of works in two or more art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context.
Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

Grades 9–12
Understanding and Applying Media, techniques, and Processes
Students apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.
Students 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.

Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
Students demonstrate the ability to form and defend judgments about the characteristics and structures to accomplish commercial, personal, communal, or other purposes of art.
Students evaluate the effectiveness of artworks in terms of organizational structures and functions.
Students create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.

Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
Students reflect on how artworks differ visually, spatially, temporally, and functionally, and describe how these are related to history and culture.

Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Students differentiate among a variety of historical and cultural contexts in terms of characteristics and purposes of works of art. Students describe the function and explore the meaning of specific art objects within varied cultures, times, and places.
Students 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.

Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
Students identify intentions of those creating artworks, explore the implications of various purposes, and justify their analyses of purposes in particular works.
Students describe meanings of artworks by analyzing how specific works are created and how they relate to historical and cultural contexts.
Students reflect analytically on various interpretations as a means for understanding and evaluating works of visual art.

Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
Students compare the materials, technologies, media, and processes of the visual arts with those of other arts disciplines as they are used in creation and types of analysis.
Students compare characteristics of visual arts within a particular historical period or style with ideas, issues, or themes in the humanities or sciences.