The Value of Art Literacy Lessons

In 2002-03, Beaverton Art Literacy (BAL) began to align its lessons to help BSD meet their Curriculum Learning Targets for the Visual Arts in grades K-8.

BAL also aligns with the School District's Pillars of Learning. We believe Art Literacy provides:

●   EXCELLENCE in exposing students to well known art and artists of the world beginning in Kindergarten.

●   INNOVATION in the use of Power Point presentations and cross-curriculum connections in art and core subjects. 

●   EQUITY in the inclusion of all students and the presentation of diversity in background, gender, and culture in the artist lessons.

● COLLABORATION in the essential relationships between staff, Art Literacy coordinators, parent and community volunteers who bring this program to the students.

The Contents of an Art Literacy Lesson


The Objectives section of the lesson state the learning outcomes for the four areas of History, Criticism, Aesthetics and Production (see below). The objectives are measurable and are tied to the vocabulary presented in the lesson. They align with the district’s Curriculum Learning Targets for the visual arts.


The vocabulary presented in the text of the lesson is determined by the objectives of the lesson. The vocabulary is chosen to help meet the specific Curriculum Learning Targets. It includes the elements and principles of art, artistic movements, and art terms. The vocabulary is imbedded in the lesson and is not recommended as an introduction to the material. 


The Introduction section of the lesson is a way to engage students at the beginning of an Art Literacy presentation. It acts as a transition from any activity the students were engaged in, to the volunteer’s presentation. Volunteers may choose to use their own introduction or method of engaging the students as well. 

 Note to Volunteers

Notes to volunteers are scattered throughout the lesson to offer ideas and instructions on classroom management, required materials, and presentation tips.

FYI Text Boxes

Text/books in boxes may or may not be included in a lesson. If included, they contain additional  information about the artist and/or art history. Generally, this information is not appropriate for the students and is included to enhance the learning of the adult volunteers.

History: Places an artwork in its art historical context.

Art history teaches students to value the expressions of all people and to understand the unique contributions of their own culture. It also gives students a sense of the past and helps them understand the times in which they live. Art history is the study of art, past and present, and its contributions to cultures and society. Art history tells us who?, what?, when?, where?, and why?

Additional history notes:

o   The titles, dates, media, museum locations and size information on the lessons and the Power Points are not meant to be read to the students. This is generally informational and in the case of the PowerPoint presentations, some of it is required for copyright permission. If you feel it is appropriate and the information adds something important to the discussion, or a question is asked regarding the information, then bring it into the conversation. Otherwise, skip giving this level of detail to students.

Criticism: Informed talk about art

Art criticism involves learning other criteria for judging art beyond our personal likes and dislikes. It sometimes helps us value art that we don’t necessarily, because we understand that the art communicates something important. Teaching students some techniques for looking at art, such as “scanning,” helps them become informed viewers who make informed judgments. A major component of the DBAE approach to teaching art is in learning to examine a visual image and recognizing the parts that create the whole. Information about art is gained through a process called Aesthetic Scanning, which includes the examination of four properties:

1)    Sensory Properties – What do you see (colors, lines, shapes, texture, value, space and form)?

2)    Formal Properties – How is it arranged (balance, emphasis, contrast, pattern, unity, movement and rhythm)?

3)    Technical Properties – What media, tools and techniques were used?

4)    Expressive Properties – What mood, idea or dynamic state does it express?

Aesthetics: Questions the nature, value and beauty of art

This area of the lesson deals with the “big questions” of art such as what is Art? Aesthetic discussions help the student gain insight into his/her own response to the visual world. These discussions also validate and deepen the “experiencing” of art.

Production: Creating art

Creating things which give expression to one’s thought and feelings is an essential human activity. Students learn how to use new materials and techniques so that they can more accurately express themselves. As they mature, students learn how to make complex decisions and judgments to achieve the effects they desire. In addition, through production, students learn about the artistic process and can therefore better appreciate the efforts of other artists. While not all students will become practicing artists, they will all be sojourners in a visual world. Art production is the presentation of ideas and feelings by creating expressive images.

 Additional production notes:

o  When it comes to art education the saying "it's the process, not the product"  just about says it all.

o  The overall aim of an Art Literacy production is not for a student to create a “masterpiece” or beautiful piece of artwork. Creating art is often as much about learning a new technique, process or media as having the chance to be expressive. Often a production is more about the process learned than the outcome of the work itself.

o  Each student has different talents, skill level and interests. A student is successful in creating art if he or she meets the objectives of the production which are not based on artistic talent. For instance, did a student create a landscape using warm or cool colors? These are easily measured objectives. Evaluating artwork with this kind of criteria allows for all students to be successful.

o  Sharing how the production objectives were met in each student’s artwork is an ideal follow-up after a lesson presentation. Time doesn’t usually allow this to happen, but if the opportunity presents itself, take it.

o  One of the aims of the production is to tie together work of the artist with the vocabulary.


Additional Lesson Information

●  BAL began using a lesson format known as Discipline Based Art Education or DBAE in the 1980’s. Simply stated, this format allows art to be taught with measurable outcomes in the four areas of History, Criticism, Aesthetics and Production (see above).

●   There are two versions of each DBAE Lesson Plan. The simpler K-2nd lesson version allows for differences in the learning abilities of younger students and the differences in the Curriculum Learning Targets for grades K-3. The more detailed lesson developed for 3rd- 5th grades includes additional information to meet the requirements in the Curriculum Learning Targets for these grades and gives volunteers greater background information.

●   The amount of time spent on the visual (PowerPoint/slide) presentation should vary depending on grade level. 

K to 1st grade students = 15 minutes

2nd to 3rd grade students = 20 minutes

4th to 5th grade = 25-30 minutes

6th to 8th grades students = 25-30 minutes

●   A major goal for the visual portion of the lesson is to have students engaged in active participation and discussion.Studies show we learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we both see and hear, 70% of what is discussed with others, 80% of what we experience personally and 95% of what we teach someone else. Including visual, auditory and kinesthetic opportunities for learning reaches a greater number of students.

We all agree that there is not enough art education in our schools today. A big part of how Art Literacy is different from art done in the classroom is in the learning of new vocabulary, historical information, processes, materials, reasons for creating art and how we feel about it.…and then once in a while, a masterpiece happens.