Thursday, January 21, 2016

DIY Art History: Intro & Cave Paintings

We recently taught a 6-lesson elective on "DIY Art History" to a mixed age classroom (6-13). Each post on this blog describes one lesson.

DIY Art History: Cave Paintings (Lesson Plan) We started off our DIY Art History elective with a fun discussion with the kids  about what art is, how people make it, and why people make it.

Then we dived into the first known human art form: Cave Painting. In prepping the materials ourselves, we were impressed by the quality of cave paintings  - they captured the anatomy and the motion accurately and with great artistry. We also loved how much mystery there still is around cave paintings - what did they really mean? We'll never truly know, so it was fun to discuss with the kids.

For their first DIY, the kids created charcoal drawings on concrete tiles and made a group painting from their handprints (they rather enjoyed the cover-hand-in-red-paint-part!):

Here's the presentation, lesson plan, supplies, and additional resources:


Lesson Plan
The bullet points describe additional information or suggest discussion questions. 

(20 min) Introduction

  • (2 min) (Slide) Intro:
    • Introduce ourselves.
    • “For the next 6 weeks, we’re going to be teaching you a class on the history of art. We’re going to learn about art from the past, and them make some of it ourselves. We don’t have a lot of time, so we can’t cover EVERYTHING in all cultures across all eras, and maybe you’ll want to learn more about history or art after.”
  • (5 min) (Slide) Q: What kind of things do you make art of?
  • (5 min) (Slide) Q: How do you make art?
  • (5 min) (Slide) Q: What kind of things do you make art of?
  • (1 min) (Slide) 3 Questions
    • We’ll be the looking at those 3 questions throughout history.

(55 min) Cave Paintings

  • (Slide) Montage
  • (Slide) Migration patterns
  • (Slide) Chauvet Cave
    • Q: How do we find caves?
  • (Slide) What did they paint?
    • Q: What are each of these animals? A: Rhino, bear, panther.
  • (Slide) What did they paint?
    • Q: What animal do you think this is? A: It’s actually a cave lion, which doesn’t exist anymore. Scientists knew about it because of fossils, but now we know that it didn’t have a mane thanks to the cave paintings!
  • (Slide) What did they paint?
    • Q: Why do you think the horn is repeated so much? A: To show motion, like an animation.
  • (Slide) What did they paint?
    • Handprints (positive, negative)
    • Q: What did they not paint, after seeing all those? A: We don’t see a lot of paintings of humans, surprisingly, at least not in that cave. Why do you think so? They think maybe because humans were considered sacred, unpaintable.
  • (Slide) How did they paint it?
    • They combined a pigment and binder to make paint.
  • (Slide) Why did they paint it?
    • Q: We don’t know for sure, why do you think? A: One possible explanation is that the cave was used for rituals (as the skull looks like it), and the paintings were a part of the ceremonies.
  • (30 min) DIY Time:

    • Set up newsprint first on the floor.
    • Each person gets a tile, some charcoal, and an optional animal print-out.
    • Each person works on their tile at their own pace.
    • Each person goes up one at a time to make a hand print on the group paper
  • (10 min) Clean-up


We got most of our supplies from the local SCRAP store in SF, but I've included Amazon links to similar items for convenience.

Additional Resources

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