Curriculum Unit Overview

Curriculum Unit:
Disrupting the Social Status Quo

Unit Rationale:
There have been many revolutions and many social movements throughout history. One way the public learns about these social movements is through art created by socially conscious artists. To tap into this inspiration and to create art with a personalized message, students will be creating murals about a social issue of their choice and a message for change they would like to send to society. The students will be studying the work of Diego Rivera, a Social Realist artist. Rivera used murals as a vehicle to communicate his ideas for change to the public. The murals he created were had a lot of elements, imagery, and symbolism, but Rivera was able to create unified compositions through various methods. Diego Rivera is the focus artist, while unity is the principle of art that will be emphasized.

Grade Level:
High School - Beginning

Lessons and Time Frame:
Lesson 1: Historical and Cultural Context                                1 - 2 hour class period
Lesson 2: Artistic Perception                                                   1 - 2 hour class period
Lesson 3: Creative Expression - Skillbuilding                          1 - 2 hour class period
Lesson 4: Creative Expression - Artmaking                            9 - 2 hour class periods
Lesson 5: Aesthetic Valuing                                                     3 - 2 hour class periods

Focus Artwork:


Sugarcane, 1931, mural, fresco on concrete, Diego Rivera (1886-1957).


History of Mexico from Conquest to Revolution, 1929-1935, mural, National Palace Mexico City, Diego Rivera (1886-1957).


Teacher example.

Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes:
Students will be able to…

  • Summarize the main characteristics of Social Realism, the main events of Diego Rivera’s life and his inspiration for creating his murals.
  • Analyze the elements and principles of design in an artwork and accurately describe them using art vocabulary.
  • Work collaboratively in groups to brainstorm a social issue and to execute a mural related to the social issue they chose and have a central message of change.
  • Use the grid method to reproduce a composition and enlarge it from a sketch to the mural size.
  • Paint a mural of their social issue, keeping in mind unity to make their design cohesive.
  • Present a critique, based on the Feldman Model, of their artwork.

Materials and Resources:
Art Materials and Tools:

  • Drawing pencils
  • Erasers
  • Sketchbook paper for sketching
  • 54” x 72” pieces of cardboard for the mural paintings
  • Acrylic paint
  • Brushes
  • Cups for water
  • Paper plates for mixing colors
  • Paper towels

Instructional Resources:

  • LCD Projector
  • Computer
  • Slideshow presentation on Social Realism and Diego Rivera
  • Video - The History of Mexico City. Documentary based on Diego Rivera Mural in National Palace
  • Handout - Encyclopedia Britannica article - Diego Rivera
  • Handout - Encyclopedia Britannica article - Populist Art and the Mexican Mural Renaissance
  • Worksheet: Diego Rivera and the Mexican Muralist Movement
  • Readings - from
  • Worksheet - Analyzing the Elements and Principles of Design
  • Activity images, Diego Rivera’s Flower Carrier
  • Whiteboard
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Grid method handout
  • Grid method worksheet - one for each student
  • Completed Simplifying Shapes Exercise worksheets
  • Reproductions of Diego Rivera’s murals for inspiration
  • Student and teacher artwork examples
  • Reference images - students to bring their own
  • Reproductions of Diego Rivera’s work
  • The Visual Experience (pages 20-27)    
  • Art criticism worksheet
  • Critique Rubric
  • Haiku worksheet


  • Social Realism (noun): A style of painting, especially of the 1930s, in which the scenes depicted convey a message of social or political protest, edged with satire. The goal is to elevate the lower or working classes to be worthy as subject matter for art. Typically, the figures appear stylized and two-dimensional, with bold and expressive shapes and colors.
  • Revolutionary Nationalism (noun): Refers to an ideology, a sentiment, or a social movement that focuses on the collective idea that one’s nation is being persecuted by other nations and thus needs to be liberated from accused persecutors. The political factions that came in power during the Mexican Revolution chose to adopt this political structure, rather than a full-scale Socialist or Communist regime.
  • Mexican Muralism (noun): was the promotion of mural painting starting in the 1920s, generally with social and political messages as part of efforts to reunify the country under the post Mexican Revolution government.
  • Mural (noun): a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall.
  • Los Tres Grandes (noun): “the big three” painters, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
  • Status Quo (noun): the current situation
  • Line - (noun) is a mark on a surface that describes a shape or outline. It can create texture and can be thick and thin.  Types of line can include actual, implied, vertical, horizontal, diagonal and contour lines.
  • Shape - (noun) is a 2-dimensional line with no form or thickness. Shapes are flat and can be grouped into two categories, geometric and organic.
  • Color - (noun) refers to specific hues and has 3 properties, Chroma, Intensity and Value.  The color wheel is a way of showing the chromatic scale in a circle using all the colors made with the primary triad.  Complementary pairs can produce dull and neutral color.  Black and white can be added to produce tints (add white), shades (add black) and tones (add gray).
  • Color Scheme - (noun) a group of colors that make a pleasing arrangement. Can be complementary, split complementary, analogous, or monochromatic.
  • Value - (noun) is the degree of light and dark in a design. It is the contrast between black and white and all the tones in between. Value can be used with color as well as black and white. Contrast is the extreme changes between values. 
  • Rhythm - (noun) is a movement in which some elements recurs regularly. Like a dance it will have a flow of objects that will seem to be like the beat of music.
  • Space - (noun) refers to variations in the perspective, and proportions of objects, lines or shapes. There is a variation of sizes in space of objects either real or imagined.
  • Balance - (noun) is a feeling of visual equality in shape, form, value, color, etc.  Balance can be symmetrical or evenly balanced or asymmetrical and un-evenly balanced.  Objects, values, colors, textures, shapes, forms, etc., can be used in creating a balance in a composition.
  • Unity - (noun) brings together a composition with similar units.  If your composition was using wavy lines and organic shapes you would stay with those types of lines and not put in just one geometric shape. 
  • Contrast - (noun) brings together a composition with similar units.  If your composition was using wavy lines and organic shapes you would stay with those types of lines and not put in just one geometric shape. 
  • Texture - (noun) brings together a composition with similar units.  If your composition was using wavy lines and organic shapes you would stay with those types of lines and not put in just one geometric shape. 
  • Shape - (noun) the external form or appearance of something; the outline of an area or object.
  • Replicate - (verb) Make an exact copy of, reproduce.
  • Composition - (noun) The artistic arrangement of the parts of a picture.
  • Positive Space - (noun) The area of the composition that the subject occupies.
  • Negative Space - (noun) The background of the composition.
  • Contour line - (noun) a continuous, single line drawing that follows the edges of objects
  • Color scheme - (noun) a pleasing, intentional arrangement of colors used in a composition
  • Hue - (noun) pure color (i.e. red, yellow, blue)
  • Tint - (noun) color + white
  • Tone - (noun) color + gray
  • Shade - (noun) color + black
  • Mute - (noun) color + compliment, desaturated color
  • Harmony - (noun) a condition in which the elements of an artwork appear to fit well together. 
  • Art criticism - (noun) systematic discussion of an artwork
  • Feldman Model - (noun) a four-step method for critiquing art that was developed by Edmund Burke Feldman. The steps are: description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.
  • Haiku - (noun) Important form of traditional Japanese poetry dating from the 16th century. Specific metric (17 syllables divided over 3 lines: 3 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables). Does not rhyme.

California Visual Arts Standards:

1.0 Artistic Perception

  • Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
    • 1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
    • 1.2 Describe the principles of design as used in works of art, focusing on dominance and subordination.
  • Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
    • 1.4 Analyze and describe how the composition of a work of art is affected by the use of a particular principle of design.
  • Impact of Media Choice
    • 1.5 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work.

2.0 Artistic Perception

  • 2.1 Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design.
  • 2.4 Review and refine observational drawing skills
  • 2.6 Create a two-dimensional work of art that addresses a social issue.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context

  • Diversity of the Visual Arts
    • 3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
    • 3.4 Discuss the purposes of art in selected contemporary cultures.
    • 4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
    • 4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.
    • 4.5 Employ the conventions of art criticism in writing and speaking about works of art. 

 5.0 Connections, Relationships, and Applications

  • Careers and Career Related-Skills
    • 5.4 Demonstrate an understanding of the various skills of an artist, art critic, art historian, art collector, art gallery owner, and philosopher of art (aesthetician).

For a PDF version of the Curriculum Unit Overview, click here