Grade level:


Approximate Lesson Duration:

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

1.2.12.A.1, 1.2.8.A.3, 1.2.8.A.2, 1.4.8.A.1 

1.1.8.D.1, 1.1.8.D.2, 1.1.12.D.1

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

This lesson will demonstrate to students how art can be used to challenge media stereotypes about identity, as well as teach them the power of self possession in the midst of social media. A recent study found that 85 percent of artists featured in permanent collections are white, while 87 percent are men. It is important to show students work done by powerful artists that reflect their own diverse identities. For this assignment, I feel it is important to discuss the significance of the art on its own before discussing the artist. Students need to see successful queer artists and understand how their work has impacted the art world, but labeling an artwork with its maker’s identity can be an oversimplification of the artist and their art. 

The focus of this project is to teach the students to create art that makes the viewer reconsider common stereotypes and cultural assumptions. We will discuss work by Kehinde Wiley and how his figurative paintings “quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” This lesson could be expanded to encourage students to explore a broader variety of materials as well as to introduce  them to more artists with whom they may identify. Roxana Hall’s paintings show women in the home but she disrupts the traditional setting by creating characters in strange and surreal poses. Students interested in photography could look to Cindy Sherman’s work (such as her work with Old Masters Untitled #228,  Untitled #224, Untitled # 209) Students could  also explore the sentimental Victorian “ladies’ art” of shadow portraits, by learning about the work of Kara Walker. There is also Amalia Ulman’s popular Instagram project, which chronicles her semi-fictionalized transformation into tropes she saw popularized online.

Lesson Overview:

Essential Question(s)
  • In a culture where we are bombarded with other people trying to define us, how do we remain true and authentic to ourselves?
  • How are prejudice and bias created? How do we overcome them?
Enduring Understanding(s)
  • Art can serve as a tool for social activism or social healing
  • The arts create connections and open up dialogues that we begin
  • Taking a stance, sharing your work, or even simply bringing an idea into reality can be daunting but it is necessary to the social language of art.
Potential Misconceptions

Learning plan, experiences, intstruction and learning activities:

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

Students will be able to:

  •  Create a strong self portrait that challenges preconceived notions of who they are
  •  Balance social commentary with strong visual imagery
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

The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Turn and talk to a partner about… The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete, In what way do we reduce students in our school to a single story?”

You are really beginning to understand that assumptions about who people are based on limited knowledge can cause critical misunderstandings. Today, we’re going to dig deeper with a new focus.  This focus is you. What do you feel people would say is your single story? You know that’s not your entire story. How can you create a self portrait that challenges their assumptions of who you are?

Brainstorm ideas or imagery in your sketchbook.

We will explore some artists that use their work to challenge stereotypes.

What equipment, resources, or materials are needed?

Device to show Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk, samples of Kehinde Wiley’s work, samples of work by Roxana Hall, Cindy Sherman, Amalia Ulman…

Supplies for multimedia projects.

How will we rethink or revise our thinking throughout the lesson?
  • What learning is confirmed?
  • What misconceptions are uncovered?
  • What is your new thinking?
  • Students sometimes have difficulty with creating art with a deeper meaning. They will need examples and guidance to help them avoid being too literal or help them focus their ideas
  •  They also must keep their work visually dynamic while addressing social bias
How will students self-evaluate and reflect on their learning?

Students will be able to assess the quality of their projects through class, as well as teacher, critiques

How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests, and learning styles?
  • Have examples of art by multiple artists who work in varied materials
  • Allow students to choose their own medium
  • Modifications can be made to accommodate any students with specific needs
How will we organize the sequence of learning during the lesson?

Scaffold the Instruction


Display several works by  Kehinde Wiley:

  • Repair the World, Three Graces
  • Triple Portrait of Charles I
  • Lead discussion: How Wiley challenges the way black masculinity is often associated with fear and violence in our country.

Put up more of Wiley’s work:

  • Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps
  • Anthony of Padua, and After Sir  
  • Anthony Van Dyck’s “La Roi A La Chasse” (as well as the Old Master paintings they are based on)
  • Saint Remy

Lead discussion: By replacing the typical European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, Wiley is able to draw attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives and raise questions about race, gender, and the politics of  representation.

By depicting African American men in poses that were previously reserved for saints, nobles, and royalty, Wiley questions conventional portraiture and societal representations (Jankauskas, 2007). Additionally, because African Americans are absent in the history of Western portraiture, Wiley’s work challenges this tradition. His work goes further to disintegrate the boundaries that separate different eras of art history, and through his practices, he creates new meanings that may not have traditional referents (Miller, 2007)


Now discuss Wiley’s upbringing in South Central LA in the late 80s early 90s. How were young black men from that area being depicted by the media? How might this have affected his art? Now think about Wiley as a young black, gay man in that environment and discuss how that would affect his personal view. Explain to the students how Wiley allows his models to choose their roles. Why is this significant? How does it differ from past portraiture?

Show more work by other artists you feel will resonate with your students and that offer different viewpoints and materials (some examples listed in summary)

Guided Practice

  • Discuss possible ideas for this project as a class. 
  • Remind the students of the strong poses shown in the examples we looked at. Encourage them to begin by choosing a pose that demonstrates strength (looking at viewer, posture, placement in composition.)

Independent Practice

  • Students will return to their sketchbooks to begin to sketch out ideas or create a mind map of their concept for self portrait (remembering to begin with a strong pose)
  • Students will continue to plan until they have solidified their composition and have chosen materials that will help them achieve their vision. Material choice can be what disrupts gender role stereotyping in their art. For instance, using materials that have been deemed “feminine” such as fiber arts, or “masculine” such as metal can be used to challenge that stereotype.

Independent and Guided Practice

Students will confer with teacher and peers to make final decisions regarding their work, ensuring that their meaning is clear. They should be challenging the viewer to think beyond their preconceived notions, to move past their prejudice.  The students should also have chosen materials that will complement their work. Remind them of Wiley’s stand glass work or Roxana Hall’s grisaille panels.

Students will complete work while using materials properly

Check for understanding:

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

Contributions to class discussions and class critiques

Conferencing during independent practice

Exit slip with observations about Wiley’s work

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

Performance Task/Project:
(attach rubric)

Project rubric including self reflection component

Self Reflection

Please write a paragraph expanding on these questions.Do not simply answer each question (they don’t all have to be answered.) Use these as a guide to reflect on your final piece.

How did your work force the viewer to see you in a different light? Did the materials you choose add to the overall effect? Did you choose materials that are seen as “feminine” or because they were unexpected, or did you choose materials that you are comfortable using? Do you feel you were successful? Why or why not? Did any of your classmates’ art stand out to you? Why? If you could go back and restart, would you do things the same way? If not, what would you change? Why?


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