Grade level:


Approximate Lesson Duration:

90 minutes

Unit/Lesson New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS):

Visual & Performing Arts

1.2.12.A.1 Cultural and historical events impact art-making as well as how audiences respond to works of art.

1.3.12.D.3 The artist’s understanding of the relationships among art media, methodology, and visual statement allows the artist to use expressionism, abstractionism (non objective art), realism/naturalism, impressionism, and other genre styles to convey ideas to an audience. 

Social Studies

6.1.12.D.10.d Determine the extent to which New Deal public works and arts programs impacted New Jersey and the nation.

Brief Summary of Cultural Competencies Related to the Unit/Lesson:

Censorship is a “hidden” part of our everyday life. Students need to navigate an increasingly visual and digital culture to acquire new information and make informed decisions. Considering what information has been left out or erased is central to making an informed decision.

The way in which artists choose to represent minorities has a lasting impact.

LGBTQ U.S. service members are heroes and are part of the history of the United States military and navy, despite the government’s historic and contemporary censorship of these minorities. Tracing the history of LGBTQ service members can reveal precedents that affect contemporary culture and policy.

Lesson Overview:

Essential Question(s)
  • What is censorship and why is it important in the study of visual culture and history?
  • During the New Deal, how was censorship used by the US government to suppress representations of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals?
    • How has censorship shaped the historical narrative of everyday lives of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals?
Enduring Understanding(s)
  • Artists can raise awareness of minorities and make political statements by how they choose to represent their subjects.
  • Censorship is culturally relative and a source of inaccuracy in recorded history and public understanding. 
  • Art has always been and will continue to be censored.
Potential Misconceptions
  • All sailors are gay
  • US service members must hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Gay, lesbian, and transgender artists only represent subjects that mirror their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Learning plan, experiences, intstruction and learning activities:

What is Expected?
  • List the intentional learning objectives on the board.

Students will be able to:

  • Define censorship as: “The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”
  • Define the Federal Art Project (1935-43) as: “A New Deal program created as a relief measure to fund the visual arts in the United States.”
  • Interpret a work of art using visual mapping, formal analysis, and primary sources. 

Today we will…

  • Analyze and interpret a painting by Paul Cadmus using: formal analysis, visual mapping strategies, and primary sources.
  • Read two articles and quotes from artists to add biographical and historical context. 
  • Review criteria for project.
What is expected?
How will we hook (Introduce this to) the students?
  • Activate thinking
  • Consider the language you will use to introduce the lesson (See example in the table)

Link to Engagement

Recently, we looked at photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (1935-43) during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. We learned that the purpose of the documentary photographs was to illustrate the positive impact and necessity of New Deal Programs for rural Americans. We also learned that under the Federal Art Project, the US government provided relief work for artists, musicians, and performers by commissioning – or hiring – them to create works of art for public audiences. The Federal Art Project also opened art centers all over the country for the instruction of visual art and design, and the WPA created posters to advertise the work being done around the country.

Turn and talk to a partner about… 


  • How is taking a photograph different from making a drawing, painting, or sculpture?
  • Why might an artist choose to paint a picture rather than take a photograph?
  • Can you think of a work of art made during the New Deal that was made to tell the truth? 



You are really beginning to understand social realism, a style widely used by visual artists employed under the New Deal. Today, we’re going to dig deeper with a new focus. This focus is censorship in art made during the New Deal, and what censorship can tell us about the prevailing cultural norms during this moment in history.


What equipment, resources, or materials are needed?

For lesson: Digital Projector; Digital or poster-size reproductions of images for Instructor; 8 ½ x 11” reproductions for students; index cards or similar cardstock. 

For Project: a variety of mixed media; Paper, glue, and scissors; acrylic paint.

How will we rethink or revise our thinking throughout the lesson?
  • What learning is confirmed?
  • What misconceptions are uncovered?
  • What is your new thinking?

How will students self-evaluate and reflect on their learning?
  • Guided questions
  • Writing prompts/reflection
  • Peer to peer and group critique
How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests, and learning styles?
  • Independent, peer-to-peer, and group learning activities.
  • Use of multimedia including:
    • Audio recording
    • Still and moving image
    • Literature 
How will we organize the sequence of learning during the lesson?

Scaffold the Instruction

Model: Censor yourself, or reflect on a time when you had to in front of your students.

What is censorship? Are there different types?

  • What are some examples throughout history? (use images)
  • Who can censor an artist and why? 
  • When is it appropriate to censor content?

Warm Up: Hand out 8 ½ x 11 reproductions of the painting The Fleets In! and one index card. Ask students to begin by listing 10 words that describe the painting on one side of the index card. Then, ask students to map evidence of interaction between the subjects, first by drawing lines of eye contact between the figures, and then by circling their hands. Finally, ask students to write directly on the image adjectives and verbs that describe the placement or interaction of the hands (touching, holding, open, grasping, etc.) Ask students to turn and talk to compare their responses. 

Guided Discussion about The Fleet’s In:

Suggested questions and content:

  • What’s going on in this painting?
  • Let’s focus on figures who are making eye contact: who are they and how would you describe their interaction? 
  • Now, let’s focus on the figures making physical contact: who are they and how would you describe their interaction?
  • How would you describe the artists style? 
  • Is this social realism? If so, what are the specific visual characteristics that match the style? 
  • Why do you think Paul Cadmus used this style?
  • What questions do you have for the artist, Paul Cadmus?

Add Context: In this painting, Paul Cadmus chose to represent a spectrum of gender identities enjoying a moment of frivolity. The Fleet’s In is an example of magic realism, a term used to describe the style of art made by Paul Cadmus and a few of his contemporaries, including Jared French. Cadmus and Jared French met in art school at the Art League of New York, and went on to study in Europe together before returning to the United States after which time French married NJ native Margaret Hoening. Paul, Jared, and Margaret formed a photography collective known as PaJaMa (the first two letters of each name) in which they passed around the camera and shared authorship. In addition to being close friends and influencing one another’s work, Cadmus and French were in a gay relationship that may have continued after Jared married Margaret. 

Let’s now consider this painting through the lens of gay relationships during the Great Depression and Word War I. At this time, being in a gay relationship was considered illicit, criminal activity, and therefore remained clandestine. So, men who wanted to be in gay relationships used subtle public identifiers, such as wearing a red tie, which we see in this image. This is a form of symbolism. 

The painting was selected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for exhibition in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. However, before the opening of the show it was removed from the gallery.

Do you think that removing an artwork from public view is a form of censorship?

  • Why do you think this painting would be censored in 1930’s America?
  • Who do you think would have wanted to hide this image from public view?

It was removed from public display by demand of the US Navy. After the Secretary of the Navy, Claude A. Swanson became aware of the subject matter, he ordered that the painting be excluded from the show. Following its removal, Henry Roosevelt sent the painting to the Alibi Club in Washington D.C., where it stayed until the 1980’s. 

Why do you think the US Navy did not want this painting displayed for public audiences in Washington, DC?

  • What does the censorship of this painting in 1934 tell us about gay rights, particularly for gay men in the military during this period of time?

Add context: Censure was in part because of the Newport Sex Scandal in 1919, which ignited after two naval officers were overheard exchanging details about gay relationships between navy personnel and civilian men in Newport, Rhode Island. At the time, gay relationships were considered illicit, criminal activity that required arrest and prosecution. In order to determine who was having gay relations, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt (who served in the position from 1913-1920) created an internal task force to investigate who was involved. Navy personnel and civilians who were arrested were denied due process and held in solitary confinement for over three months before they received charges. The story quickly became newsworthy and FDR received bad press for the methods used to organize the task force and for the unconstitutional treatment of sailors in prison.

Watch 2 minute segment of Frontline Documentary (see sources below for link) in which Paul Cadmus says “ I owe the start of my career to the [naval] Admiral who suppressed it.”  (Continue listening for Paul Cadmus’ obvious sexism towards female models.)

In total, five paintings Paul Cadmus made during his years working for the Federal Art Project were censored. These paintings, including The Fleet’s In, went on to be exhibited in retrospectives and today remain conserved in the collections of major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMa, and the Smithsonian.

  • Do you think this painting would be censored anywhere in the United States today? If so, where?

Independent: Pass out reproductions of The Kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Ask students to use the same drawing and writing methods as before to analyze this photograph: delineate eye contact, then circle and label condition of hands. Finally, ask students to write any other descriptive words directly on the photograph. Have students turn and share their responses, answering the questions: 

  • What can we interpret from the eyes and hands?
  • Compare the physical characteristics of interaction between this work and The Fleet’s In.
  • What does this photograph and its circulation in a national magazine tell us about the cultural norms of the time?

Pass out a short article about the woman in the picture and corresponding Eisenstaedt quotes about his artistic process. (see resources below)

  • What does the article reveal about the cultural norms of the time?
  • What do Eisenstaedt’s quotes reveal about his artistic process and intent?
  • Does the article change your interpretation of the photograph? 
  • Do you think that this photograph would make it onto a cover of a magazine today? Why or why not?

If there is time: view Norman Rockwell’s The Tattoo Artist and discuss representations of straight relationships in visual culture, especially print which was most accessible

Check for understanding:

(Formative evidence such as conferencing, group Q/A, teacher observation, exit-slip, etc.)

Group Q&A about censorship

Before and after word generation

Quiz/Test (optional):
(attach copy of assessment)

Performance Task/Project:
(attach rubric)


Supplemental Resources: 

The Queer Encyclopedia of Visual Arts, Archives of American Art Oral History Interview with Paul Cadmus, 1988 excerpt and transcript found at:

Paul Cadmus: Enfant Terrible at 80, 1986

PBS Frontline Documentary directed by David Sutherland (free trailer features Cadmus discussing The Fleets In!

Lewis, D. (2016, September 14) The Woman in the Iconic V-J Day Kiss Died at 92, Here’s Her Story. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

Project #1: You, (Un)Censored

Teacher: Preview visual tropes of censorship, i.e. in the digital world: eye crossed out, pixelation and more analogue forms of censorship i.e. blacked out text, fig leaf, and the intent behind censorship. 

Students: Examine and represent ways in which your self expression has been censored by internal and external forces.

Format: open format

Project structure:

  • Explore personal experience of censorship through word generation and writing
  • Draft thumbnail sketches of three compositions that represent your experience of censorship
  • Student/teacher meeting to discuss your approach and choose final composition
  • Peer to peer work in progress feedback
  • Project completed: class critique
  • Project completed: writing reflection

This project should include: 

  • At least one visual trope of censorship (i.e. pixelation, blacked-out text, fig leaf… etc.) 

Grading Rubric:

Requirement Completed Partially Completed No work done
Uses a visual trope of censorship 
Relates to personal life
Meets with instructor to discuss approach to project 
Meets with peer to discuss work in progress
Participates in critique
Participates in pre/post writing

Project# 2: Work It!

Teacher: Preview WPA posters in conjunction with other WPA murals that illustrate the types of work done by working class Americans. This project could be expanded to include the role of workers with disabilities, since the first disabilities rights group was formed during the FDR Administration. 

Students: Design a poster that graphically represents the work you do outside of this class. Examples of work outside of this class may include: another academic subject, athletics or hobbies, helping your friends and family, or an after school job or internship. (Review this list in class and ask students to contribute additional examples) 

Format: 18”x 24”

Materials: mixed media

Your composition should include one of each of the following media:

  • Photography
  • Drawing or painting

Your composition should include the following elements: 

  • Text or lettering
  • Overlapping and size variation
  • Simplification (flattening) of imagery

Grading Rubric

Requirement Completed Partially Completed No work done
Incorporates multi-media art forms into a single composition
Use of overlapping and size variation
Use of text or lettering
Use of color blocking
Simplify an element (separate layers of color)


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