Introduction

The art classes I co-taught at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School (with my partner Layne) was developed in congruence with their classroom teacher Tamara’s unit plan. Upon request, Tamara informed us that students would be learning about several topics throughout the semester; one of these topics was Fairy Tales. Not all artworks tell a story, but many artists do choose to use their artwork as a context in which they share their unique story. This type of art is called Narrative Art. When designing the lessons, we wanted them to follow this over arching idea for the unit: Storytelling with Art. This cross-curricular alignment between Tamara’s teaching and art gave students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of how stories are told, what they can be about, and how they can be invented. 


Lesson Descriptions

Lesson 1 – From Stones to Selves

Student working on their painting, inspired by aspects of their agate stone.

From Stones to Selves is a lesson in which students explore narrative art and character design. Students will invent creatures inspired by agate stones we provide.
To introduce the lesson we read the book “Agate: What Good is a Moose”. Together we will create a concept map that details the observations students made about Nikki Johnson’s illustrations in the book; Johnson transforms gemstones into paintings of animals that share characteristics with the stones. This will act as a form of ideation and inspiration as students next apply those same observational skills to their own stones and sketch ideas about how those stone characteristics can be transformed into characteristics of an invented creature. Students will be given time to draw and eventually paint their creatures onto a 12 x 18 inch canvas exploring with both drawing materials (graphite, oil pastels, markers, and colored pencils) and painting materials (watercolor and acrylic paint). These works will be exhibited at the end of the semester where we will have a final critique style discussion about the work where we explore the intent of the artist and the interpretations of their peers and reflect on the overall process of art making and learning.

This lesson engages students in several art learning based processes including conceptual development, ideation, identifying and using expressive features and characteristics of art (or the language of art), contextualizing their art among the work of contemporary artists and the art world, developing skill with materials and techniques, and participating in critical reflection about the art making process and product.

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Lesson 2 – Home For A Friend

Home For A Friend is a lesson in which students further explore narrative art, character design and setting. Students will recreate their two-dimensional characters from lesson 1 as three-dimensional clay figures for which they will build setting/environment for their creatures to live. 

Student showing the ‘brains’ she added to her creatures head before closing it up and adding other bodily features.

To begin the lesson we had students fill out a playsheet called a Creature Bio that acted as a reference for their ideas about their creatures unique personality. See a link to this playsheet in our lesson plan resource section. Next, we observed the work of Eva Funderburgh – a sculpture artist who uses clay to create ceramic creatures with lots of personality. Viewing a slide presentation of her work, we will have a class discussion about the ways she uses Emphasis to accentuate aspects of the creature that can help tell a story of who that creature is. This presentation and discussion will act as a form of ideation and inspiration as students brainstorm ways to emphasize aspects of their own creatures that can help visually express their intentions. There will be a short video showing the firing process so that students understand all steps the clay figures will undergo. Students will be given time to build their creatures as sculptural forms in clay. Students will explore the materials of clay and glaze while developing skill with the following techniques: slip and score, coil building and slab building. These works will be exhibited at the end of the semester where we will have a final critique style discussion about the work where we explore the intent of the artist and the interpretations of their peers and reflect on the overall process of art making and learning.

This lesson engages students in several art learning based processes including conceptual development, ideation, identifying and using expressive features and characteristics of art (or the language of art), contextualizing their art among the work of contemporary artists and the art world, developing skill with materials and techniques, and participating in critical reflection about the art making process and product.

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Prepared Graduate Statements

The overarching goal of this unit was for students to gain a deeper understanding of narrative art and its application in today’s art world. By completing the objectives of our lesson, students would be able to see art as a form of communication for telling stories, understand that narrative art can give artists the opportunity to share their unique viewpoint and express their ideas about the human experience, demonstrate that the language of art can be used to accentuate the unique meaning in their art and find that observations of the world can be used as inspiration for artwork. These goals directly relate to the Prepared Graduate Statements found in Colorado’s Visual Arts Education Standards. The following PGS were addressed in the lessons of this unit.

See oneself as a participant in visual art and design by experiencing, viewing or making.
Visually and verbally articulate how visual art and design are a means for communication.
Practice critical and analytical skills by using academic language to discuss works of art and visual culture.
Critique connections between visual art and historic and contemporary philosophies.
Interpret works of art and design in the context of varied traditions, histories and cultures.
Create works of visual art and design that demonstrate increasing levels of mastery in skills and techniques.
Persist in the creative process and innovate from failure.


Click on the button below to see how these Prepared Graduate Statements were aligned with the standards and objectives used in these lessons.