Crossing The Line: Element of Art

By Jolene Navarro, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Smithsonian Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

7 x 45 minute classes if all work is done in class - less if homework is given


Line is one of the first elements we introduce in art. With a strong understanding of this basic element, in-depth and detailed art pieces can be created. Without having an "image" to draw even the self-proclaimed "non" artist can find success and build confidence. The students will identify how master artists use line in unexpected ways. They will figure out ways to use the element to show emotion, energy and motion.

National Standards

Visual Art:
  • Standard 1 Understand and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts(level IV grade 9-12): 1. Artistic skills and techniques; 2. Artistic communication and expression. Benchmark 1. Applies media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that ones intentions are carried out in artworks
  • Standard 5. Understand the characteristic and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others. (level IV grade 9-12): 1. Identifies intentions of those creating artworks. Benchmark 2. Understands some of the implications of intention and purpose in particular works of art. Benchmark 4. Understands how various interpretations can be used to understand and evaluate works of visual art
Common Core English Language Arts:
  • Strand: Speaking and Listening
  • Topic: Presentation of knowledge and ideas
  • Grades 9-10
  • SL.9-10.4.: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow  the line of reasoning an the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


  • Students will be aware of how line impacts art and how different media can be used.
  • Student will be able to use various interpretations to create their own art work with skill and confidence.


  • You need a way to show a PowerPoint If you have a smart board or can project on a white board the students can draw over the lines they find. If not just have them come to the board and point out the line with a meter or yard stick.
  • Each group gets a set of color copies with various art work. Included in the power point are:
    • Monet Painting in His Floating Studio
    • Edouard Manet
    • Seurat Sunday Afternoon
    • Franz Marc The Fate of Animals
    • Georgia O’Keefe
I have the students create their own graphic map to show a variety of lines they come up with.


  • Poster boards or Tag board
  • Things to make 3-D or texture line - string, rubber band, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, tooth picks, color tape and wire
  • For 2-D line A variety of medium such as - oil pastel, marker, watercolor, soft pastel, markers


  • Artistic Intention - Showing imaginative skill in arrangement or execution in the art work - the thing that you plan to do or achieve an aim or purpose - How this applies to the use of line.
  • Artistic purpose - The reason an artist why so does or use something.
  • Line - A long mark or stroke


Background Information:
  • What is line and how do artist use this element?
  • What do you know about line?
  • Introduce the vocabulary words on the word wall
  • How do you think an artist might show intention?
  • Open line vs. closed line


Day 1:

After opening slide and discussion, the class will be divided into groups of three or four and given the following: Color copies of art work such as Georgia O’Keeffe Pink and Blue Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals, Georges Seurat Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In their small groups they will go through the pictures and discuss ways they think the artist used line. This will explore the characteristics of line in the art work of others.

      • What might have been the purpose?
      • They will be identifying the intentions of the artist use of line.
      • What mood or emotion was achieved?
      • Explain why you came up with these answers.
      • They will make note in their sketchbooks (part of sketchbook grades) and be prepared to share their conclusions.
Day 2: 

Group Discussion - (15 min)  types of lines and variations.

      • What kind of line did they find in the art work in the last class?
      • What kind of lines do they find in other subjects such as math, science, history, English, music or athletics?
      • Ask them to give examples of the kind of line they have found: Curved, straight, diagonal, horizontal, vertical, zig-zag, swirls, thick, thin, tall, short, broken, parallel, and perpendicular. This is short and just a means to get them thinking of other kind of lines and where they find them.
Small groups from previous day. Each group will be given: A poster board or flip chart sheet, one bag of items to create textured or 3-d line. There is a suggested list in materials, you may add to this. An odd and ends collection of used medium. I have some listed in materials (I use leftover pieces for previous years). Each group with get two bags with surprise materials in them. I will have the following instructions on the board:
      • Design a chart or graphic to show your lines
      • No less than 20 types and variations.
      • Label lines
I will list the following questions on the board:
      • How might you demonstrate different lines with the supplies given?
      • How might the same line give a different feel when you change the medium?

Assignment: They will design their own graphic chart to show all the lines they have come up with using the supplies (2-d and 3-d) they were given. (standard 1) This will give them a chance to explore diverse media and see how techniques can be used with different effects. They will have all class period to compete this as a small group. They will refer back to the art work pieces they analyzed but they are not limited to those as examples.

Day 3:

Presentations (5 min per group) Review the expectations of group presentation.  Expectations for both audience and presenters - Active listening, have at least one question to ask each group to get a better understanding of how they interpreted line in the art work or how they decided to use a certain material to show a line and why. Did they think….

For the presenters, make sure they understand to speak loud and clear. Everyone in the group has to stand up with their poster and explain at least one aspect of their examples and conclusions. Every member has to answer at least one question. In my seating chart I mark students that had asked questions, they have a participation grade. I might also ask question to role model the kind of questioning we should be doing. Depending on size of class this might go into the next day.

Day 4:

Art Assignment - Student will brainstorm individually in their sketchbooks on the kind of line design they want to create for their final art project.  On the board is the question to get brainstorming started: How might we use line to show emotion?

Instructions: use six varieties of line to show a chosen emotion. It has to be a black and white 2-D work done with sharpie. Design with just line – no images or symbols. The focus is on line. The student will use line to demonstrate and illustrate an idea or emotion. They will be graded on having at least five thumbnails to so how they might use line to show their chosen idea or emotion.  I give them about twenty minutes then they will turn to another student and share their idea they have drawn in their sketchbook. I give them about 15 minutes to complete this conversation. At this time I will be walking around the room and checking their thumbnails. We will discuss the one they think will best demonstrate how line is used to show their chosen topic and which medium they want to use.

They will have three class periods to finish work. (This can be modified based on your students and if you give it as home work). On the day the project is due – all the works are lined up on the board. The class will get to take a gallery walk to view all the individual piece of art work showing how they illustrated their emotion with line.. This takes less than 10 min – the rest of class will be a class discussion of each work. The students will critique each piece. Did the art work show emotion, idea or theme? How was it done? What was successful and what might have the artist done differently. They will finish with a 15 minute written reflection that will be attached to their artwork.

Discussion Questions:

  • How might we use unexpected materials to show line?
  • How might we use line to illustrate emotion or mood?
  • How might using the same type of line set a mood differently than using contrasting lines?


The first chance of assessment is during class discussion. If there seems to be a disconnect, than I can redirect. Listening to the small groups work and looking at their charts I can get a verbal and visual check on their understanding. Group presentation gives the teacher another way to assess. Students use the thumbnails to explore and reflect their ideas. The final work and presentation will demonstrate the students understanding of how it applies to their own work. At this time they will articulate their purpose and intention. To differentiate the instruction we will have visual clues (examples of line) written clues (posters with lines labeled the student will be making these working together with peers) They will be able to "build" lines. Teacher will use a combination of visual (PowerPoint and copies) small group ad individual work. Most of the project will be hand-on creating.

Enrichment Extension Activities

You could talk or give information about the art wok the students are analyzing. What year it was painted? What might have been going on at that time to influence the emotion or mood of the work? What is going on today that might influence your own work? How can art help you express emotions or events that happen in your community?


Teacher Reflection

I gave all the groups the same four artworks to analyze. Next time I will pick only one work that everyone gets. The other three will be different. All the groups will have one in common to compare interpretation but for the other three they can facilitate the class discussion that they are the "experts."

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