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Lesson Plan: Degas—Understanding Art through Nonverbal Means

Degas | The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer | 29.100.370

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917); cast by A. A. Hébrard
The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer
Model executed ca. 1880; cast 1922
Bronze, partially tinted, with cotton skirt and satin hair ribbon; wood base; overall: 38 1/2 x 17 1/4 x 14 3/8 in. (97.8 x 43.8 x 36.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.370)

Collection Areas: European Art; European Art, Nineteenth-Century; French Art
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: Elementary School, Middle School, High School
Topics/Themes: Artist Choices, Art and Writing, Identity, Art as a Primary Resource, Daily Life, Stories in Art


Goals

Students will be able to:
  • assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a work of art;
  • use nonverbal means, such as posing and sketching, as a scaffold to support visual analysis; and
  • use writing, drawing, or movement as a means to share evidence-based inferences.

National Learning Standards

English Language Arts
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.10 Applying Non-English Perspectives

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
NA-VA.K-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines


Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.*
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.*
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

*Art as text


Questions for Viewing

  • Take a moment to look closely at this sculpture. What do you notice?
  • Examine the figure's pose and facial expression; re-create it with your body. Hold the pose for 30 seconds and note how it makes you feel. What might this figure be thinking or feeling? What makes you say that?
  • Watch this brief video of a ballet in action. (Show YouTube clip 00:52–01:38 of the Sylvia (Pas de Deux) choreographed by George Balanchine, as performed by Martine Van Hamel and Patrick Bissell of American Ballet Theatre in 1984.) What adjectives might you use to describe how the ballerina moves? How do the pose and body of the ballerina sculpture compare with those of the dancer in the video?
  • To create this work, Degas instructed a fourteen-year-old ballet student at the Paris Opéra to hold a specific pose and facial expression for a long time—perhaps even for hours. (See Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History, p. 123.) Imagine you were asked to hold this pose for hours; what might you find most challenging?
  • What do you think the artist hoped to convey about this person and/or the ballet? What do you see that supports your idea?

Activity

Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Paper, pencil, clay, clay-working tools
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts
Duration: Approximately 90 minutes

Choose a friend, family member, or celebrity living today. Write a narrative describing a moment in this person's life. Consider how you might portray this moment in a sculpture through the figure's pose, facial expression, clothing, and accessories. Make a sculpture of this person in clay.

Alternate Activity

Activity Setting: Classroom or Museum
Materials: Paper, pencil
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts
Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

Think about what might have happened right before and right after the moment captured in this sculpture. Choose one of the following three ways to capture these moments: write a story; sketch the figure in two different poses; or recreate the moments by posing your own body two different ways.


Resources

Boggs, Jean Sutherland, et al. Degas, 1834–1917. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.

"Edgar Degas: The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (29.100.370)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

"France, 1800–1900 A.D." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Kendall, Richard. Degas and the Little Dancer. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Reff, Theodore. Degas: The Artist's Mind. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Harper & Row, 1976. Out of print but available online through MetPublications.

—. "The Technical Aspects of Degas's Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 4 (1971): 141–66.

Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Vincent, Clare. "Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Bronze Sculpture." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.


Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
The Dance Class
1874
Oil on canvas; 32 7/8 x 30 3/8 in. (83.5 x 77.2 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Two Dancers
About 1879
Charcoal and white chalk on green commercially coated wove paper; 25 1/8 x 19 1/4 in. (63.8 x 48.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.189)

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Dressed Dancer, at Rest, Hands Behind Her Back, Right Leg Forward (Second State)
Possibly modeled ca. 1895; cast 1920
Bronze; 16 7/8 x 8 3/4 x 10 in. (42.9 x 22.2 x 25.4 cm.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.392)

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
First Arabesque Penchée
Probably modeled ca. 1892–96; cast 1920
Bronze; 15 7/8 x 21 3/8 x 13 in. (40.3 x 54.3 x 33.0 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.397)


Author: Adapted from a lesson by classroom teacher Amy Schlossberg
Affiliation: P.S. 20 John Bowne (Queens, New York)
Date: 2011

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