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 - Diego Rivera: Art as the Universal Language
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Background for Activity One : What is (visual) Art?

  1. Involve the students in a class discussion about visual art.
  2. Ask students what they think art is, and write their responses on the board.
    • Read and discuss the following quote from visual artist Marcel Duchamp:
      "But before we go further, I want to clarify our understanding of the word 'art' - to be sure, without any attempt at a definition. What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion."
    • Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal on the floor and said that it was art.
    • Do you agree with him? Why/why not?
    • Do you think it is ever possible to truly define art? Why/why not?
  3. Ask students what purpose art serves.
    • On a personal level
    • Community level
    • National level
  4. Diego Rivera believed that art should play a role in empowering working people to understand their own histories. Do you agree with this?
  5. Do you agree with Rivera's statement that "art is essential for human life"? Why/why not?
  6. Historically every group of people has produced art. Why do you think this is?


Background for Activity Two : Viewing a piece of art

  1. Have students find several pictures of paintings that interest them. (Art books, Internet art museum sites, art magazines)
  2. Write Hand, Heart and Eye on the board. These words will be used when looking at a selected painting:
    • Hand - (Physical) What are the physical elements of the painting? (i.e. what materials were used)
    • Heart - (Social) What meaning or ideas does the painting elicit?
    • Eye - (Psychological) What do you look at first? (What your eye does to decipher the visual elements.)
  3. Pick several paintings to discuss using these elements.
  4. Pair students together and have them repeat the process.


Background for Activity Three : Diego Rivera

  1. Discuss how murals are usually found in public places, and how they generally tell a story.
  2. Send students to the PBS American Masters site to gather information on Diego Rivera. (
  3. Ask students to answer the following questions:
    • Where can Rivera's work be found in the United States?
    • What kinds of stories did Rivera tell in his paintings?
    • Do you think Rivera's painting, containing Lenin's face, in the RCA building in Rockefeller Center should have been destroyed? Why/why not?


Activity One

Duration 3 - 50 min. sessions

Rivera's Murals

  1. Ask students to think of examples of famous murals (i.e. Sistine Chapel) and/or murals that might be in their community.
  2. Discuss how Rivera didn't want his art to be contained in museums and galleries. He wanted people to have open access to his work.
  3. Divide the class into groups to research the events of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) and the United State's Great Depression.
  4. Each group, using a variety of sources, will gather information about these time periods.
  5. The following site contains information about the Mexican Revolution:

    This site contains information about the Great Depression.

  6. After spending twelve years in Paris, Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921. The Mexican government was commissioning artists, Rivera included, to paint frescos for public buildings. The themes for these paintings included social and national themes, and religious motifs.
  7. Find books with examples of Rivera's Mexican murals in your local library. The following site contains Rivera's Night of the Rich and A Dream of a Sunday in Alameda Park:

  9. Use your research information from studying the Mexican Revolution to discuss how Rivera's work reflected what was happening in Mexico during this period of time.
  10. Rivera came to the United States to paint in 1930.
  11. Visit the following sites to view some of Rivera's work that he painted in the United States:

  13. Discuss how the images in Rivera's murals relate to what was happening in the United States during this time period.
  14. Ask students to find a Rivera mural that interests them and create a short story based on the mural.


Activity Two

Duration 10 - 50min. sessions

Creating a class mural

  1. Tell the class that they are going to create a class mural that will tell the story their current day lives in 21st century United States.
  2. Brainstorm a list of ideas to be included in the mural. (Suggested topics include what is happening in their everyday lives, popular culture, social issues, politics, environment, technology )
  3. Have students choose one of the topics to illustrate.
  4. Discuss the layout of the mural. (i.e. One single panel, a main panel with numerous side panels)
  5. Directions for the actual making of a mural may be found on the PBS online Fresco website at the following location: (Click on the site and scroll to creating a fresco panel.)
  6. Create the mural.


Lesson One

Students will be evaluated on the overall quality of their story.

Lesson Two

Students will be evaluated on their participation in the class mural.


Have students investigate what public artwork exists in their community. Students may also explore the existence of state and national public art works.

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