Woman holding paint brushes

Defining Art – Idea File

Students consider what makes something art.
Grades: 1-5

Teaching Concepts:

  • Analyzing the use of the elements and principles of art and considering the function and idea behind an artwork help answer the question, “What is art?”

Academic Content

  • Visual Arts: elements of art (line, shape, color, form, texture, space, and value) and principles of design (e.g., balance, emphasis, and pattern)

Lesson Idea
Performance Event: What Is Art?

Display the “Purposes of Art” poster from the Visual Arts Toolkit where all students can see it. Ask students to consider why the objects on the poster are considered art.

Divide students into small groups of about four. Each team should choose five images from the poster, discuss why each piece is considered a work of art, and then write a short description of each piece with a rationale for why the team members do or do not consider it a work of art.

Questions to consider:

  • Is art always beautiful?
  • Is the piece well-made?
  • Does it express an idea or feeling?
  • Does it show artistic use of an element of art (line, color, shape/form, space, texture)?
  • Does it show artistic use of a principle of design (pattern, repetition, variety)?
  • Why was the piece created?
  • How was it probably used?

In assessing the students’ performance, consider

  • how effectively they work as a group.
  • the validity of the reasons they give in determining whether an item is a work of art.
  • the completeness of their descriptions/rationales (e.g., do they analyze the use of the elements and principles of art? the work’s function? the artist’s idea? etc.).

Author: Barbara Schaars

See more resources for:


See more resources about:

K-12The Arts