Currently, there is no curriculum for teaching visual arts. While many schools share ideologies, such as communication of subject matter, making connections, and innovative thinking, there is no cohesive learning plan for students. I believe there are two main branches in arts education: creativity and critical thinking. Both of these can be taught and integrated into a learning plan.


When it comes to art, creativity is usually the fundamental notion. Creativity can be taught in many ways, however, when it comes to the practical application of art, it is best to start with the elements that make up an artwork. It is the same as learning grammar before writing or learning to read music before singing; they are essential.

1) The element of line creates dimension and shape. There are many types of lines, such as wavy and jagged; all of which bring emotion to the viewer.

2) Shape is another element. It can be man-made, organic, or abstract. Shapes can be colored, textured, and shaded.

3) Value determines the lightness or darkness of colors in art. This element helps create depth and atmosphere, which act on the mental state of the viewer. For example, an image emerging from darkness can cause a sense of angst or anxiety.

4)   Color contributes to the mood of a piece. It can often aid in presenting a pattern, shape, or symbol.

Image courtesy of the NGA

5) Texture is created by the surface quality. It can be noted through sight, using movement or patterns, or can be noted through touch, as the medium possesses texture itself.

6) Form is the volume and space an object takes up. It often refers to the illusion of a three-dimensional object.

There are many ways to explore these elements, and all media can do so. For educational purposes, these elements are most often explored through introductory drawing or painting. Once a student has an understanding of these fundamental elements, they then explore how to manipulate them using the principles of art.

1) Balance refers to the weight and visual distribution in art. Balance can be created using shape, color, or form.

2) Pattern is the repetition and arrangement of elements, such as shape, and creates harmony and movement in art.

3) Emphasis can be used to construct a focal point in a piece.

4) Contrast imposes two opposite elements against each other to emphasize certain elements. Contrast can come in the form of texture, color, shape, and more.

5) Harmony involves all the visual elements working together, all the pieces have some relationship connecting them together.

Image courtesy of

6) Variety is used to differentiate sections in an artwork. It helps to break up patterns and create an unpredictable mixture of lines, shapes, and textures.

7) Movement is the arrangement of elements to create a sense of rhyme in art, such as texture creating a crashing wave.

8) Proportion deals with the relationship of size within an object. For example, painting a human head out of proportion with the rest of the body would create a sense of discomfort in the audience.

9) Scale is the relationship of an object to other objects or its surroundings.

These principles must be understood and mastered before the creation of final pieces. Both elements and principles should be taught in Grade 9 and revisited again in Grade 10. Once in Grade 11 and 12, students would then be expected to know them and can continue with the creation and contemplation of art. These principles are the tools in which artists, and students, can use to forge their artistic abilities.

Classes can be structured to incorporate a short lesson, an exercise about the lesson, and then a reflection period (which will be discussed more later). A lesson about an element, such as line, would require time catered to students exploring the element through drawing. Whether an oral discussion or written reflection, students can analyze their creation and others around them.  

Critical Thinking

According to The Foundation of Critical Thinking, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” Essentially, critical thinking is careful contemplation leading to a goal. For the purpose of arts education, students are expected to analyze and question ideas, pieces, and techniques, which leads to understanding. When teaching this discipline, it is important to keep ‘The Three Cs’ in mind; Create, Connect, Communicate.

Create: When making art, it is integral to think about the way in which the artist creates. What are they making? What media did they choose and why? What are the elements and principles saying? Are there any accessible themes? How does it make you feel?

The viewer and the artist must think about their creation before, during, and after the artistic process. While creativity applies here too, it pairs with critical thinking. Students should be responsible for answering these questions as a viewer and consider them while developing a piece.

Connect: The viewer and artist link their creative efforts to larger concepts, such as society, self-identity, culture, etc. As these concepts will be subjective, it is not about finding the correct answer, but making observations and creating a narrative with the artwork. A student may view a piece of art with cool tones and assume it is gloomy, when the artist intended to communicate peace. There is no requirement to reach a certain answer, instead the need to support inferences with visual evidence.

Image courtesy of Camina Project

Communicate: Both oral and written communication is integral to critical thinking. Students should expect to practice both methods. Oral communication teaches idea-building, presentation skills, open-mindedness, and offers immediate feedback from peers and the teacher. Written communication teaches self-reflection, logical thinking and explanations, and the permanency of ideas. There would be no critical thinking or art without sharing and creating space for new ideas.

As critical thinking should be taught explicitly, students must have prompts to direct their thinking. These prompts can be focused or more ambiguous, as long as students can find their voice and train of thought. The higher the grade, the more comprehensive and extensive the reflections, and expectations become.


With the knowledge of what to teach in art, the next step is applying it to a learning plan. The ideal class layout involves a short lesson, exercise, and reflection. However, there are other pieces to the puzzle. Here are some ideas that create a structure for a learning plan:

-   Half of a student’s body of work should consist of realism and the other half abstract. In Grade 9 and 10, the teacher should determine which project focuses on abstract or realism. In Grade 11 and 12, students can decide which artistic method to use for their projects. This format allows students to grow an appreciation and understanding for both forms.

-   Each project should use a different medium. Students can investigate various media, including traditional forms such as painting and drawing, and alternative media including found objects. A semester in the United States averages 16 weeks,  and 10 weeks would include a lesson, exercise, and reflection, while 5 weeks would contribute time to finalize projects, and with the final week consisting of an exhibit put on by the students (see example semester plan below).

Exhibition Example. Image courtesy of Educational Service District 123

-   Each lesson should include an introduction to the medium paired with information regarding a related artist or art movement, as a way to integrate Art History.

-   Each project should include a written reflection. These reflections can follow specific themes, such as culture, self-identity, social issues, etc. The length and depth of these reflections grow as the student moves through each grade.

-   Lessons should take 20 minutes while the rest of the class is dedicated to an exercise. The written reflection should be completed at home as homework. Oral reflections occur throughout the exercise, as students ask questions.

-   All 10 final pieces are collected throughout the semester and used for grading. During the final class of the semester, students can showcase their artwork (either all pieces or their favourite) as a collective exhibit.

-   Half of the final grade is determined by the student’s 10 pieces. The other half is equally derived from participation and their reflections.-   As art is extremely subjective, visual arts should be marked with strict letter grades, with no minuses or pluses. This will encourage students to view the class as a self-development tool rather than a mark.

Example Grade 9 Lesson Plan




Medium, Type



Elements and Intro to Drawing

Practice using visual elements to create a piece of art

Pencil on paper, realism

What do the various elements in your picture make you feel?


Principles and Intro to Painting

Practice using visual principles to create a piece of art that reflects your personality

Acrylic paint on canvas, abstract

How do the principles in your piece relate to your personality?


Painting Tips





Art History and Intro to Pastels

Recreate a famous piece of art

Chalk pastels, realism

Why did you pick this piece, what about it appeals to you?







Art History and Intro to Paper Mache

Create a mask based on your family’s culture, history, etc.

Paper mache, N/A

Explain how your piece relates to your culture, history, etc.







Art History and Intro to Calligraphy

Select a quote and use calligraphy techniques to create a piece of art

Ink on paper, N/A

What does this quote mean to you? How did you reflect this meaning in your piece?


Art History and Intro to Watercolors

Select a song and paint to it

Watercolor on paper, abstract

How did this song help in creating your art piece?


Art History and Intro to Charcoal

Position objects in front of you and create a still life

Charcoal on paper, realism

How can color add or take away from a piece of art?







Art History and Intro to Found Object Art

Go for a walk around the school grounds and select items, create a piece from them

Found object, abstract

How can a medium affect a piece of art?


Art History and Intro to Oil Painting

Select an artist you admire and create a piece that uses their style

Oil painting on canvas, realism

Why did you select this artist? Explain their style and how your piece would fit into their collection.







Art History and Intro to Pencil Crayons

Draw how you currently feel

Pencil crayon on paper, abstract

How do the elements and principles in your piece reflect your mood?


Class Exhibit




Image courtesy of Alessia Margarita


Art class is not about teaching art, but about students’ ability to learn, self-expression, and understanding of human behavior. It is about creating a safe space for free-thinking. Creativity and critical thinking are the essence of arts education and are applicable in all aspects of life. Art is one of the most essential aspects of education and should carry a cohesive curriculum, generating more imaginative and open-minded individuals.

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