Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
4 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

Learning Objectives

• Students will be able to work in teams to interpret and analyze an assigned work of art.
• Students will be able to write a narrative or short story of 500–700 words based on an assigned work of art.


• Images of artworks below
• Information about Getty works of art, found in the Image Bank
• Overhead projector
• Worksheet: "Analysis of The Invention of Drawing"
• Worksheet: "Analysis of Penelope Unraveling Her Web"
• Worksheet: "Analysis of The Father's Curse"
• Student photocopies of Penelope Unraveling Her Web and The Father's Curse
• Writing paper, pencils, pens, or a computer

Lesson Steps

1. Using the information in Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment Overview, introduce the basic concepts that informed the Enlightenment and discuss the impact on the visual arts that resulted in the Neoclassical style. Emphasize the importance of narrative in Neoclassical art as a vehicle for expressing values of virtue, stoicism, filial piety, etc. Narrative in Neoclassical art is characterized by its sense of moral clarity and didactics and used classical philosophy and literature as models for these ideals. Duty to a higher cause, such as one's country or family, was emphasized.

2. Show students an image of The Invention of Drawing and ask for ideas about what the narrative could be. Use the Questions for Teaching found in the Image Bank to prompt students. Discuss possibilities generated by the class, directing all responses to the image and the visual clues held within. Emphasize the importance of referring to the image for answers and addressing all narrative elements, such as action, relationship of figures to each other, body language, objects, setting, etc. Using the information found in the Image Bank, help students understand how all elements of the drawing, formal and content-based, work to tell a story.

3. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group the worksheet "Analysis of The Invention of Drawing." Have students read the synopsis of the story and fill out the worksheet using skills learned through the previous discussion. Have each group present their answers to the class.

4. Give each student a photocopy of either the Wright of Derby painting or the Greuze drawing. Using these images, they will generate a narrative or short story of 500–700 words (3–4 paragraphs), depending on their grade level standards. Students will use descriptive language to explain the characters, setting, and plot of their story. Students should describe who the figures are, what they are wearing, and what they are doing. They may also include information about what happened in their story before this scene and what will happen after.

5. Have students group-read several stories written by their classmates and vote on one or two that best fulfill the goals of the assignment. The chosen authors will read their stories aloud to the class while displaying the appropriate image. Ask the class to jot down notes when they see a connection between the story and the image. Using their notes and observations, discuss with the class why the narrative was successful.

6. Give each student the worksheet that corresponds to the image they wrote about, either "Analysis of Penelope Unraveling Her Web" or "Analysis of The Father's Curse." After students complete their worksheets, discuss students answers as a class.

Penelope / Wright of Derby
Penelope Unraveling Her Web, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1783–1784


Observation of student discussion and small groups for inclusion of the following:
• How time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
• Neoclassical art in the context of its relationship to Enlightenment ideals of virtue, loyalty, and duty.
• Articulation of the theme of a work of art and demonstration of their understanding of the important ideas behind the Neoclassical style.

Evaluation of written assignment for:
• Understanding, and exploitation of, visual language to create a convincing narrative.
• Ability to use descriptive language to explain the characters, setting, and plot of their story.

Students should be able to articulate, in discussion and written assignment:
• Relationship of assigned work of art to ideals of the Enlightenment.
• Neoclassical characteristics of a work of art.
• Convincing arguments for their interpretation of narrative in a work of art.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–8

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.

Text Types and Purposes
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

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.

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.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 7
Writing Applications
2.1 Write fictional or autobiographical narratives of 500–700 words:
a. Develop a standard plot line (having a beginning, conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement) and point of view.
b. Develop complex major and minor characters and a definite setting.
c. Use a range of appropriate strategies (e.g., dialogue; suspense; naming of specific narrative action, including movement, gestures, and expressions).

Grade 8
Writing Applications
2.1 Write biographies, autobiographies, short stories, or narratives of 500–700 words:
a. Relate a clear, coherent incident, event, or situation by using well-chosen details.
b. Reveal the significance of, or the writer's attitude about, the subject.
c. Employ narrative and descriptive strategies (e.g., relevant dialogue, specific action, physical description, background description, comparison or contrast of characters).

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 7
Artistic Perception
1.1 Describe the environment and selected works of art, using the elements of art and the principles of design.
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).

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

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.
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.

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.

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.

National Standards for English–Language Arts

Grades K–12

Communication Skills
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Communication Strategies
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

National Standards for Visual Arts

Grades 5–8
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.

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.

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.