- Students will examine ideas surrounding good and evil and will recognize that there are often complexities in life that make choices more challenging.
- Students will be introduced to the powerful artworks of Henry Darger in which the issues of good and evil are clearly drawn. Using Darger text and image as motivation, students will develop critical sensitivity to the power and appeal of both good and evil.
- Students will investigate why people have been fascinated with the ideas surrounding good and evil in literature, art, philosophy and religion from biblical times to the present.
Throughout history, people have been fascinated with ideas surrounding good and evil. These ideas are considered in a variety of art forms including fairy tales, fables, the latest books, television programs, cartoon strips and video games. Good usually triumphs over evil but not without many challenges along the way. Concluding a series of harrowing trials and complex adventures, narrated in thousands of pages of original text and several hundred compelling watercolor paintings, Henry Darger’s characters, the seven heroic Vivian Girls, emerge triumphant.
Related Video Clips
Henry Darger had a difficult childhood that influenced his views on good and evil.
(Please note: Some of the clips below depict violence and may be inappropriate for younger children. Please view before sharing with students.)
- Students will learn about the artist Henry Darger and consider what may have motivated him to devote so many years of writing and art-making to the subject of good and evil.
- Students investigate how Darger intensifies the drama in his images with use of color, characters depicted and arrangement of pictorial elements.
Students write a brief answer to the question: What is good and what is evil?
- Image: At Jennie Turner Children tied to trees in path of forest fires. In spite of exceeding extreme peril, Vivian girls rescued them I Vivian girl Jennie observes with spyglass great massacre of children and brings the attention of her sisters to it.
- Colored pencils, marking pens, paper
Share image with students. Some suggestions for guiding discussion:
- Danger and evil are sometimes more “thrilling” when the villains are absent. Where are the villains in the image?
- In this image, we recognize vulnerable tortured children tied to trees. Though unseen, how do we recognize the villains?
- How does Darger’s use of color make you feel? Some thoughts: His use of color heightens the drama. The dark palette suggests sinister forces lurking through the tree bark and the contrasting hot oranges and yellows indicate fire and destruction.
- Why do you think Darger paired the picture on the left with the picture on the right? Some thoughts: Darger enhances the sense of evil by strongly contrasting the painting on the left with the one on the right (that includes seven Vivian sisters with their white horses standing nearby in what appears to be a grassy patch). The soft yellow, purple and green colors contribute to the calm setting. Consider Darger’s composition placing figures on the right side of the image in a smooth horizontal plane and the figures in the picture on the left side in a more chaotic arrangement.
Create an image of a dramatic moment, from your imagination or life experience, in which good and evil play a role.
A consideration of good and evil helps a person understand himself/herself and the world in which he/she lives. Through stories and pictures, a person can create a universe and gain control over his/her world.
Examine comic strips and find as many examples as you in which issues of good and evil are expressed graphically. Bring examples to class.
- To relate concepts of good and evil to the heroes, villains and anti-heroes in Henry Darger’s visual art work.
Throughout history, rules of conduct for individuals and society have fascinated historians, philosophers, clerics and artists. Artists often personalize complex concepts such as good and evil through story and song. In Henry Darger’s world, the heroine Vivian sisters, with some assistance from an assortment of generals and others, conquer the forces of evil. The Vivian Girls are always heroines in the story and the children they protect are always good.
What examples of good and evil did you find represented in comics or magazine pictures? What about the image led you to define it as either good or evil? Was it difficult to locate these images?
- Image: Untitled (Battle scene during lightning storm, children carry rifles)
- Paper and pencils or wire, fabric, recycled materials
Consider heroes and villains you know from games and movies. Generate a list of these characters with students.
Some questions for discussion:
- What is the appeal of the hero? (Some thoughts: attractiveness, courage, unselfishness, kindness, cleverness and cunning).
- What is the appeal of the villain? (Some thoughts may include many of the same strengths as those of the hero such as: good looks, strength, cunning, power, competition, challenge and mastery).
- Why do stories and games about pitting the forces of good and evil against each other continue to have universal appeal? (Among other thoughts, human nature is complex with potential for good and evil).
Examine the image to continue the discussion.
- What do you see? (Notice: Unclothed children fleeing and others are dead. Children are also drawn prominently in the foreground shooting at an unseen enemy.)
- What does Darger do to enhance the feeling of turbulence and disjunction in the scene? (Notice: Along with the poised rifles, notice the storm, lightning and darkness in the background.)
- Why do you think Darger painted large pretty flowers in this horrific scene? (One possibility might be that the flowers make the war imagery more palatable. Another is that the scene is imaginary. A third idea is that flowers and birds symbolize “goodness.”)
- Is war ever justified? (For further thought: characters like Robin Hood, Zorro and James Bond break laws in order to fight injustice. Discuss the appeal of these characters.)
How are concepts of good and evil related to the heroes, villains and anti-heroes in Henry Darger’s visual artwork?
Draw or create a figure that has symbolic and literal elements of “goodness” enabling them to protect, befriend and support you. Take note of what this figure first looks like as you imagine it in your mind. What does this tell you about your perceptions of what characteristics are equivalent to “good” and what are “evil”? What visual clues can you use to communicate your concept (color, value, symbols, location of figure in a setting etc.)?
Students will create a personal journal or sketchbook.
Ask students to write a brief answer to the following question:
What are some of the differences between writing (or drawing) in a personal journal (or sketchbook) and writing (or creating artwork that will be viewed by other people?
- Composition books or spiral notebooks
- Construction paper or oak tag
- Colored masking tape (available in art supply stores)
- Narrow ribbon (24 per book)
- Glue sticks
- Diagram for creating book (located in this unit)
For a few minutes, have students write a brief answer to the “Do Now” question. Ask volunteers to share their answers. Topics may include privacy, spontaneity, freedom of expression, lack of concern over criticism. Ask students if any of them keep journals, diaries, or sketchbooks.
Construct personal journals:
- Cut paper to fit covers (inside and outside covers) of notebooks. (You may wish to have paper ready before class begins.)
- Cut ribbon to 12-inch lengths.
- Have students open books. Using glue sticks, students should glue end of ribbon to left inside edge of cover, about midway down its length. Only about half to one inch of ribbon will be glued down; the rest will extend outside the book. Repeat process on the back cover. This will become a tie for privacy.
- Now have students glue down one paper to cover the end of ribbon and line the inside cover. Repeat process on the back cover.
- Have students close the book and glue down papers to cover the outside cover, front and back. Use masking tape to create a decorative edge; half of tape will be folded over front, half over back.
Students may use collage or drawing to further personalize the books. The books may be used for creative writing projects, journal writing, sketching, etc.
The following lesson plans will relate to these Learning Standards:
NYS Learning Standards for the Arts:
Standard 3: Responding to and analyzing works of art
Standard 4: Understanding the cultural dimensions and contributions of the arts
NYS Learning Standards for English Language Arts:
Standard 1: Using language for information and understanding
Standard 3: Using language for critical analysis and evaluation
McRel Standards for Visual Arts:
Standard 1: Understands and applies media, techniques and processes related to the visual arts
Standard 4: Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Standard 5: Understands the characteristics and merits of one’s own artwork and the artwork of others
McRel Standards for Language Arts:
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Source: McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)
These lesson plans are excerpted with the permission of the American Folk Art Museum. © 2005, American Folk Art Museum.