Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 3–5–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 Overview

This lesson is part of a sequential unit. Students use criteria developed in class to evaluate which of their own sketches would make the best symbolic sculpture. They choose a final design, techniques and materials, and create sculptures based on their designs.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• sketch ideas for a work of art.
• apply criteria for content and technique to a critique of their own artwork.
• interpret the meaning of symbolic content in artworks.
• develop skills and apply techniques for building sculpture.
• solve a design problem.
• make adjustments to their own design based on self-critique.
• incorporate personal ideas and preferences into a work of art.


• Journals for note taking and sketching
• Access to information about sculpture, in a library or online
• Materials for constructing sculptural forms (e.g., papier-mâché, clay, wire, wood, fibers, stone, etc.)
• Sketches and notes from previous lesson and homework
• Images of sculptures from the Getty Museum's collection. 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. Demonstrate sculpture techniques using the materials you have chosen for this lesson. Ask students to think about the limitations and characteristics of the material and consider how the material will impact their designs.

2. Display the criteria for sculpture, developed by the class in Lesson 1, on the wall. Set any additional parameters for the students' sculptures and display those as well.

3. Have students work in pairs while they create their own sculptures. Partners can help each other develop ideas for their sculptures by reviewing each other's ideas and working together on each student's symbol. Students may want to research symbols in art online or in the library.

Ask students to make a number of sketches that work through different ways to convey the same concepts visually.

4. Have students choose the three sketches they think are the best and write a critique of each, using the displayed criteria to evaluate them.

5. After writing their critiques, students will select the sketch that best meets the criteria. Students should then prepare their materials for sculpting.

6. Have students build their sculptures. Act as a consultant to the students during this step. Monitor and critique their progress, and help ensure that they stay focused on the symbolic elements of their forms.

You may need to demonstrate and/or assist with techniques, special materials, adhesives, creating armatures, and creating special surface effects or finishing techniques. Emphasize safety.


Students should be able to do the following:
• Create a sculpture according to established criteria.
• Evaluate the potential of their own preparatory sketches for a work of art.
• Sketch an idea for a design, select a process, and execute the design in three-dimensional form.
• Use research about historical symbols to inform their own work of art.


Have students compare historical preparatory sketches for a work of sculpture to the final result. Students should speculate about how the artist transformed his or her ideas on paper into a three-dimensional work of art. What changed from sketch to sculpture? What compromises, if any, did the artist make because of the medium used?

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

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.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

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.
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.4 Analyze and describe how the composition of a work of art is affected by the use of a particular principle of design.
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.

2.0 Creative Expression
Skills, Processes, Materials, and Tools
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.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Make Informed Judgments
4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.
4.4 Articulate the process and rationale for refining and reworking one of their own works of art.
4.5 Employ the conventions of art criticism in writing and speaking about works of art.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education

Grades 9–12

1.Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
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
a. Demonstrate the ability to form and defend judgments about the characteristics and structures to accomplish commercial, personal, communal, or other purposes of art.
b. Evaluate the effectiveness of artworks in terms of organizational 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
b. Apply subjects, symbols, and ideas in their artworks and use the skills gained to solve problems in daily life.

5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
a. Identify intentions of those creating artworks, explore the implications of various purposes, and justify their analyses of purposes in particular works.