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When we are small, we have stories read to us and eventually learn to read them to ourselves. These stories are made up of words, sometimes pictures, and now with video tapes and DVDs may rely on motion, music and sound. While we need to understand the written language to follow the stories, it is no less true that the pictures, motion and sound also form a language. This visual or audio language is not usually something we are taught in school, but we become familiar with it through looking at pictures in books and on TV, and by just watching and listening to the world around us. What we learn as we become familiar with words, pictures and sound is that fictional characters can be like us, different than us, or have qualities we would like to have. So whether they are heroes, villains, movie stars, or imaginary beings, if they talk and move, have emotions and desires, we can identify with them. Good or bad, they are always a bit like us.

Learning Objectives
Students will:

  • Use collage to depict an invented creature in single image
  • Consider and discuss characteristics of heroes and villains and write a story
  • Explore how music and sound affects an image or a story and our responses

Estimated Time
1-2 classroom periods
1 classroom period for discussion;
additional classroom periods for writing (or writing as homework);
additional classroom time for collecting and duplicating stories


  • Paper or Board [Optional: children’s books, comics, videos, as visual references]
  • Colored paper and/or printed images and photographs
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Image of smiley face [Image can be printed from Google images onto overhead transparency]
  • Selections of music
  • Player

Grades 9-12

National Standards for Arts Education

  • Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
  • Students describe the function and explore the meaning of specific art objects within varied cultures, times, and places.
  • Making connections between the visual arts and other disciplines.
  • Students compare the materials, technologies, and processes of the visual arts with those of other arts disciplines as they are used in creation and types of analysis.
  • Students compare characteristics of visual arts within a particular historical period or style with ideas, issues , or themes in the humanities or sciences.

National Standards for English Language Arts

  • 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.


Students can view the sculptures depicting King Ashurbanipal included in the Gallery and discuss how we read a story presented in a series of scenes. (See Image Gallery “Battle of the Elamites”)

Classroom Activities

    The Cyclops described in Homer’s Odyssey is a monster but with human desires as Odysseus lulls him into submission with wine. In contrast, many children’s books, comics and animated films show animals in collaboration with human characters. Often in fact, these animal characters behave like humans exhibiting human desires like happiness, sadness, humor, heroism, cruelty and fear. Sometimes, it is the reverse, as humans are shown to have animal characteristics and motives. Recent digital feature films like Toy Story also bring inanimate objects to life and give them human goals, motivations and problems. In this exercise, students use collage to create three hybrid creatures out of collected images and photos: a human that becomes a machine; an animal that becomes a human; a machine that becomes an animal. In the process of reading and interpreting these images, students can consider why certain values are reserved for people, others for animals and others for machines. For example, why the playful and mischievous behavior of a character like Curious George might be considered funny for an animal or a small child, but dangerous and destructive for an adult.


    Students may wish to begin by viewing Blinding the Cyclops included in the Gallery. (See Image Gallery “Blinding the Cyclops”)

    Mythologies are always built on the disagreements and collaborations of heroes, villains, and god-like forces or beings. Superhero characters familiar to so many pop culture stories are often pictured as having human failings and needs despite their special powers. In class discussions, decide on a list of qualities that a hero or villain should have, including his or her human frailties or weakness. As a group, create images to represent the characters and then have each student write an adventure in which the characters participate. Collect these short stories into one book of tales. Give each student a copy.

    In the movies or in theater, the effect of music on pictures is sometimes referred to as “borrowed power.” As with the aboriginal Barramundi fish tale, the integration of character, image and action and music sets a mood. In movies, music and sound effects emphasize aspects for the plot—danger, high emotion, love, sadness—and leads the audience in the direction that the writer and director propose. As an exercise choose a simple image, for instance, like the Smiley face discussed in the Program 2 lessons. Project a slide of the image and play a series of pieces of music as a sound track. Discuss how the face appears to change to meet the mood, energy and words of the music, and how the feeling of the music is changed by looking at the image. In addition, present examples of contemporary music videos to see how music and visuals affect each other to tell a particular story about the bands performing and the songs they are singing.

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.