Change Makers: Artists Respond to Injustice, 11th – 12th Grade

A Unit in 4 Parts


How do artists engage with injustice? We will analyze two different artists’ responses to the injustice they saw around them and look at how they chose to respond.


The learner will:

  • analyze works of art for the artist’s intent
  • compare the way different artists respond to social injustice in their communities
  •  support her views as to the artist’s motivation with plausible reasons.
  • apply what has been learned by analyzing an artist’s work in writing

Art TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills)
Level III (High School)

(b) Knowledge and skills.

(1) Perception.

The student is expected to:

(B) analyze visual qualities to express the meaning of images                                                                              and symbols, using precise art vocabulary.

(3) Historical.

(A)    study a selected period, style, or movement in art.

(B)     trace influences of various cultures on contemporary artworks.


Resources & Materials

Reproductions of Winter Landscape, by Anselm Kiefer, and Die Witwe I – The Widow I by Kathe Kollwitz


Pens, pencils, etc.

Books on the artists, if possible. These work well:

Anselm Kiefer: Phaidon Focusby Matthew Biro  (Author)

Change Makers Information Packet

Change Makers Sketchbook Assignment

Time Required

This lesson will take two class periods to introduce concepts and one week to finish the paper and the sketchbook assignment.

Planning and Preparation

Teacher will provide books and articles on each of the artists.

Change Makers Vocabulary


Introduction-Day 1

Students will be shown reproductions mentioned above and separated into three groups of five. Each group will get an individual question to discuss.


Group 1–Each of these artists uses psychological tension in their work.  Discuss similarities and differences in the way tension is used.  What is each artist trying to achieve?  How does each work affect the viewer?

Group 2–What are some examples of metaphor that you see in each of these works?  What kind of information do you think the artist was trying to get across through metaphor?

Group 3–Each of these artists is trying to address some kind of social problem in their works.  Even though you may not yet have all the background information you need, see if you can try to figure out what the central problem is in each piece.

Following the small group discussions, the whole group will reintegrate and share their findings.  The class will continue the discussion.

Instruction-Day 1 or 2

On the day of the first class period, after the students have been introduced to the subject matter, the teacher will discuss the idea of being engaged in the world verses the idea of being isolated.  Each student will be given a packet of relevant material on both artists as well as access to classroom material such as books and websites.

Students look over the material provided and choose an artist to write a criticism on. The criticism will be written as if it is to be published in a newspaper or magazine.  The focus will be on whether or not the artist’s work presents evidence of positive engagement with society.  Each artist’s work needs to be put into context and evidence given to support the main idea.  Students will also get a handout explaining their assignment.

Criticism Questions:

What is the most important issue in this artist’s work?

How does the artist bring his or her previous experiences into his/her work?

How is the artist affected by time period?

What kind of imagery does the artist use to express social problems?

What role does the artist play? (for example—is the artist trying to solve,  bring attention to, play down, play up, describe, or pull the viewer into the central problem of the picture?)

What role does the viewer play? Is the viewer a witness or is the viewer being accused, or is the viewer expected to be moved to action, or is the viewer’s role none of these and something altogether different?

Is the central problem solved by the artist in some way and if so how?

Is it really possible for art to bring about change?  If so, describe some ways.  If not, explain why not.

Criticism Articles will be due in one week.

Day 2

Students will be given time in class to work on their Criticism assignment.  This would be a good time for them to research their artist and maybe even begin writing their article.

Day 3

At the beginning of the third class period, write: “Can Art change the world?” on the board. Use it as a jumping off point for a class discussion based on the questions below.

Discussion Questions

What kinds of social issues were the artists dealing with?

What evidence did you find in your artist’s work, that he or she was trying to deal with a problem of some sort?

What are some ways that artists can make change? What are some ways that regular people can make change? Compare and contrast.

After the class discussion the students will be given a sketchbook assignment.

Days 4, 5, and 6

Students will be given time to finish their Criticisms and begin work on their Sketchbook Assignments.

Assessment and Evaluation

Each student will be given a rubric with the assignment sheet that clearly states the grading criteria for the Criticism assignment.  Each student will also be graded on participation in group discussion.  The teacher will use a checking off system.  Participation will be checked for on Day 1 and Day 3 especially.


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