What is Art?

By Deborah Klose, December 5, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Six fifty-minute class periods


This unit will encourage students to become more comfortable with contemporary art by taking a closer look at what art looks like in the 21st century. Because the visual arts are not just traditional paintings or sculptures, students must be much better at seeing and understanding visual concepts. By being able to distinguish art objects from non-art objects, use technology, and research contemporary artists, the students will begin to understand how artists think and create their art.

National Standards

Visual Arts
Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
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
Arts and Communication
Standard 3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings
Writing Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Reading Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Standard 6. Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • learn how to look at objects and determine whether they are art
  • use problem-solving skills to determine whether what they are viewing is art and why or why not
  • use the library and Internet to research a contemporary artist
  • create a PowerPoint presentation about their artist
  • learn to appreciate contemporary art as an art form



  • notebook paper
  • pen or pencil
  • visual aids
  • LCD projector and computer or TV and DVD player
  • computer with printer and Internet access


  • art
  • medium
  • traditional
  • abstract
  • ceramic
  • aesthetics
  • contemporary art
  • non-traditional


1. Students will take the pretest in chapter one of The Visual Experience. When students have finished the pretest, the class will discuss their answers and why they chose them. Students will read Chapter One of The Visual Experience. Students will answer the chapter review questions at the end of the chapter. If a student has not completed the assignment by the end of the period he/she will complete it for homework and turn it in at the beginning of the next class period. 2. Students will view “Art 21.” 3. Discuss with students what they learned. Which artist’s work did they like? What subject matter did they find the most interesting and why? Were there any pieces of artwork they did not like? Why? Did they dispute whether a piece was art? 4. Break students into groups of 3 or 4. Tell them that they will research a contemporary artist. By researching the artist, students will be able to gain insight into the different types of art in today’s world. Make sure the students investigate the artist’s life and biography, major works of art, inspiration, materials, etc. The students can use information found on the Internet, in the school library, or in the public library. 5. Once the students have gathered their information, they will create a PowerPoint presentation about their artist. Remind them that the presentation must be organized and must cover all of the necessary points about the artist. 6. Students will present the PowerPoint project to the class. Have the students summarize the information presented and answer any questions posed by the teacher or other students.


Grade chapter review questions to see if students understood the material in the text and class discussion. View student presentations. Have each group lead a discussion following their presentation. Did they reflect an understanding of contemporary art and their chosen artist?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can create their own artwork in the style of the artist they researched.

Teacher Reflection

Students respond well to The “Art: 21” featured artists. The artists speak about their backgrounds and their art on a very personal level. The students were more receptive to the artist’s work because the video presented them as everyday people. The students benefited by doing, not by just memorizing. Their research skills and computer skills improved every time they used them. PowerPoint projects in the future should progressively reflect better design quality. The more the students are exposed to contemporary art, the more comfortable they become with this art form.

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