How Art Made the World lesson plans

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Images of the human body are found in many forms and media from comic books to paintings to book illustrations to movies and beyond. Sometimes these images represent ideas of commonplace reality and sometimes they are exaggerations and fantasies of what people can be and achieve. Sometimes they are meant to be portraits, and sometimes they are symbols that stand in for ideal views of human behavior.

The following activities encourage students to explore issues and ideas about the human body and its portrayal. Activities 1 and 2 are sequential. Although the lesson outcomes for the activities are cumulative, activities 1 and 2, and 3 and 4, can be considered independently.

Learning Objectives
Students will:

  • Look at the varied ways the human body is portrayed in contemporary media
  • Discuss what a character is and how it plays a role in telling stories
  • Look at examples of objects like dolls, puppets and toys that stand in for people in theater and in play

Estimated Time
1-3 classroom periods


  • Magazines
  • Various printed images
  • paper
  • scissors
  • glue
  • various simple materials chosen by students to produce puppets, props, set, sound effects and lighting
  • basic performance script

Grades 9-12

National Standards for Arts Education

  • Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes.
  • Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
  • Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their works and the works of others.

Classroom Activities

    In this exercise, students bring in visual examples from magazines, books, films and the Internet of the many ways in which humans are portrayed. The class will work to sort these examples into various character types (heroes, villains, boys, girls, etc), body types (strong, weak, athletic, ethereal) and styles of presentation (photographs, illustrations, cartoons). Discuss the ways in which portraits seem to reveal something believable about the person’s identity and character. Then contrast that with how others portray a face as an exaggeration of human qualities to suggest a much more general idea of what a person is or should be.

    After collecting, sorting and discussing the images collected in Lesson 1, students will produce collages that use this cast of characters to tell visual stories. Students should experiment by assembling and sometimes mixing different characters, body types and styles of presentation. Using the conventions of the comic book as a form of storytelling, these collages should also incorporate dialogue and sound effects. Projects can be individual efforts and/or one group collaborative collage.

    Images of the human body also appear in the form of objects used in theater and in children’s play. These figures represent ideals of beauty, function and character that teach us how to think about our everyday and imaginative lives. (See Image Gallery “Up Close with the Venus”) In this exercise, students bring in objects from home that like images, show the many ways in which humans are portrayed. In addition to a discussion of character, body type and style, the class should consider ways in which objects seem to come to “life” when they move or change.

    Students should be divided into small groups to produce collaborative puppet shows. The puppets should be based on the previous discussion of character, body types and styles and can be made out of found everyday materials and simple objects. Stories should follow from these new understandings of how bodies reflect not just what things look like, but how they reflect people’s beliefs and ideals. Each group will have to develop a rudimentary script, dialog, sets and lighting. The goal is to use the audience’s willingness to believe in the puppet’s “life” to tell an interesting story.

Online Resources

About the Authors

Toby Tannenbaum is currently the Director of Education, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She was previously Associate Director of Education at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Tannenbaum has served as part-time faculty in the School of Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts, as adjunct faculty in the School of Fine Arts and the School of Education at the University of Southern California, and as an assistant professor of art education at California State University, Los Angeles.

Paul Zelevansky is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He has published widely on the use of text and image, web art, popular culture and educational and aesthetic theory and has taught at several schools in the Los Angeles area on visual culture, artists books, design and art history. His website is a collection of flash animation loops which explore language, philosophy, and storytelling.