Thursday, October 15, 2009


Third Grade Art Lesson

Written by the J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff, Adapted for use at George Kelly Elementary

Lesson Overview

Students will explore contemporary artist John Baldessari's mixed-media work of art inspired by a 16th-century drawing of a beetle. After writing a story about a bug's journey, each student will create a mixed-media representation of a bug that is inspired by the contemporary artist's work.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

Examine and analyze a drawing of a beetle; discuss the characteristics of a beetle and other insects; write a story from a bug's perspective, incorporating sensory details and a conflict that the bug must overcome. (optional – if your teacher wants to do this); compare a modern artwork with the 16th-century drawing that inspired it; create a three-dimensional work, using mixed media that illustrates their own stories; devise creative ways to display their works.

Featured Getty Artworks

Stag Beetle, Albrecht Dürer

Image of Specimen (After Dürer), John Baldessari

Materials List

Power point presentation with images

Paper (different sizes and types)

Colored pencils

Sculpting tools

Self-hardening clay (e.g., Crayola® Model Magic®)

Lesson Steps

1. Begin by leading a discussion about Albrecht Dürer's drawing Stag Beetle:

Insects are made up of three parts, a head, thorax and abdomen. Identify the three parts in this drawing.

How did the artist make the beetle look real? What details do you notice? What techniques do you think he used?

This drawing was made over 500 years ago, in 1505, before microscopes were invented in the 1590s. (The date is visible on the image.) How do you think the artist drew the beetle without the use of a microscope?

This was made at a time when insects were considered disgusting creatures that carried diseases. Do you think that the artist felt that way about this beetle? Why or why not? What do you see that makes you say that?

2. Point out that the drawing is representational. Examine how Dürer used color and shading to make the beetle look realistic. Point out that the artist used shading to make the beetle seem three-dimensional. Have students draw the bugs they collected. Their drawings should include a head, thorax, and abdomen. Using colored pencils, students should color their bugs as Dürer did. Have them create shading by applying darker colors and/or by applying color more densely to create darker areas. To create lighter areas, students should use lighter colors, and/or apply color less densely.

3. Show the slides of beetles (there are 2), or if you want, find some photographs of bugs/beetles to bring in and distribute to students. Have them draw their own representational drawings of a bug.

4. (THIS IS OPTIONAL: DISCUSS WITH YOUR TEACHER IF YOU HAVE TIME TO WORK IN A WRITING ACTIVITY) Direct students to look at their own drawings of bugs. Instruct each student to write a narrative story about the bug's journey, from the bug's perspective. Ask them to write about some adventures that may happen on their bugs' journeys. Instruct students to use as many sensory details as they can by asking themselves, "What does the bug hear, see, taste, smell, and touch along the journey?"

5. Discuss how artists often use works made by artists living before them as inspiration. Display Dürer's Stag Beetle again, and point out to students that they themselves may have been inspired by Dürer when creating their own drawings.

Introduce the word contemporary and ask students what they think it might mean. (It means current; a person of the same time). Have students discuss with a partner what they think the phrase contemporary may mean. Explain that a contemporary artist named John Baldessari was inspired by Dürer's 16th-century drawing.

6. Display an image of Baldessari's Specimen (After Dürer). Lead a discussion:

The Dürer drawing is about one quarter of the size of a regular 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of paper. (Note: you can fold an 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of paper into four quarters to provide students with a visual reference.) Look at the people in the image, how would you compare them to the size of John Baldessari’s beetle? Why do you think he made it so big? What details do you notice? Do you notice any details here that you didn’t notice in the drawing by Dürer? Baldessari is very interested in the classification of things and collections of the natural world. He titled his work Specimen (After Dürer). What do you think this title means? Baldessari made this artwork in 2000. How do you think bugs are viewed today, compared to 500 years ago, when Dürer made his work? Why do people collect bugs and insects today? What types of things do you collect?

Museums are places that collect and display art and artifacts from different cultures. What kinds of museums have you been to? How did they display the works of art and/or artifacts? (Answers may include hanging painting by cables or strings, or displayed in cases). How has Baldessari chosen to display his work? (He has hung it by putting a huge push-pin that holds the painting to the wall at a skewed angle).

Discuss the similarities and differences between Baldessari's work and the drawing by Dürer.

7. Point out that John Baldessari is very interested in chance. In one of his works, he made photographs of four red balls that were thrown in the air 36 times to see if, by chance, they would form a square in the sky. He attempted the feat 36 times because the roll of film he used contained 36 negatives. 

Have students think about the idea of chance, and revisit their stories to rewrite new endings, using ideas introduced by John Baldessari's work. Direct students to each choose an everyday object to insert into the end of their stories. Ask them, "What kind of chance encounter will your insect have with an every day object (as Baldessari's beetle did)? What kind of obstacles will it have to overcome? Will it succeed?"

8. Talk about how Baldessari used mixed media to create his work. Working from a transparency of Dürer's small drawing, Baldessari created a 14 1/2 x 11 1/2-foot enlargement of the image on canvas. The canvas is mounted to the wall with a gigantic metal T-pin. He created a three-dimensional work inspired by a two-dimensional drawing. Ask students what kinds of mediums they could use to illustrate their stories. What mediums could they use to tell their stories in three dimensions?

9. Provide students with self-hardening clay (e.g., Crayola® Model Magic®). Give students a few minutes to play with the medium to better understand it by pulling, stretching, rolling, etc. Provide them with different kinds of tools (such as toothpicks and plastic forks) to guide them in making impressions on the clay.

10. After students experiment with the clay, instruct them to create sculptures of the everyday objects that they inserted into the endings of their stories. Remind the class that Baldessari plays with scale in Specimen (After Dürer) by taking a 5 9/16 x 4 1/2 in. drawing and enlarging it to 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 feet. Have students take out their drawings of bugs. Ask students to consider what the scale of the everyday objects should be in relation to their bug drawings. Then, challenge students to combine their three-dimensional object with their drawings in an interesting, creative way. (For example, students could glue the objects onto the paper or pin them.)

11. Tell students that John Baldessari is interested in displaying artworks in innovative ways by using objects that are not typically used by museums. Remind students that he used a gigantic pin to affix his beetle to the wall. Brainstorm as a class how students could display their works of art à la John Baldessari. Will they use clamps, staples, or another unconventional object? What are some challenges that Baldessari had to work with? (He had to think about the big scale of the canvas and the material of the steel pin.) Are they similar to some of the challenges that the students will have to face? Will the means of display be able to bear the weight of their three-dimensional works of art?

12. Create a museum gallery in the classroom. Have students take a gallery walk to see their peers' work. After viewing all of the works of art, have students think about whether there is anything they would change about their own displays.

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