Lesson Plan: Art about Writing and Pictures
Student Learning Objectives
  • Students will describe a purpose for creating works of visual art by discussing how artists use literature as a source.
  • Students will analyze print and nonprint texts to interpret meaning.
  • Students will investigate the relationship between images and source texts through discussion, writing, and art making.
English Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2


Visual Arts

B.V.3.2, B.CX.1.4, B.CX.2.2,
I.V.1.3, I.V.1.4, I.CX.2.2,
A.V.2.1, A.V.2.3, A.V.2.3, A.CX.1.1, A.CR.1.1 

Written by Jill Taylor, NCMA Educator
Essential Question: How does meaning change through interpretation?
Abstract: Students explore the topics of interpretation and intertextuality by investigating and creating texts and works of art inspired by other texts.

1. Show students The Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi by Pseudo Jacopino di Francesco (refer to the Art about Writing (and Pictures) Handout for full discussion). Tell students that this is a painting that the artist based on a pre-existing text: the gospels of Luke and Matthew, in addition to other writings. Give students the source text:

  • Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 7: And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn.
  • Matthew, Chapter 2: When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem … And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Have students consider:

What similarities and differences can you find between the painting and its source text?
What tools does the artist use to tell a story without words?

2. Facilitate a discussion about intertextuality and interpretation.

  • Intertextuality: Introduce the concept of intertextuality, in which texts (written or visual) respond directly or indirectly to other texts. The Nativity and the Adoration is a fairly direct example of intertextuality because the painting keeps the same subject matter and uses details drawn from the text. An example of intertextuality that is indirect in its adaptation of the source text into a new work is Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which borrows a plot structure and some character names from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but introduces many new details to the story. Ask students for more examples of intertextuality from movies, novels, television, art, and comic books.
  • Interpretation: Explain that the art included in this lesson represents an artist’s interpretation of the original text. What is an interpretation? Have students suggest or look up definitions of interpretation. How do the concepts of meaning and subjectivity play a role in interpretation?

3. Tell students that they will be assigned a work of art that is intertextual (an artistic depiction of a source text), but they will not receive the source text (see Art and Source Text document). Students will interpret the works of art based on visual information. Assign each student a work of art from the handout (marked A, B, C, etc.). Make sure that students see only the work of art that they will use to start the project.

Follow this pattern when assigning works over the course of the project, as students will exchange work with each other:

In Step Four:

  • Student One will write about Gandolfi
  • Student Two will write about Roman Art
  • Student Three will write about Long

In Step Five:

  • Student One will create art based on Student Three's writing about Long
  • Student Two will create art based on Student One's writing about Gandolfi
  • Student Three will create art based on Student Two's writing about Roman Art

In Step Six:

  • Student One will write about Student Three's art
  • Student Two will write about Student One's art
  • Student Three will write about Student Two's art

4. Have students speculate about the source text by writing a brief version of what they think the source text may be. Begin by asking students to investigate the visual evidence offered by their work of art. Students may recognize the source text based on prior knowledge and use that prior knowledge when completing the assignment. Have them consider questions that help interpret visual information, such as:
What is going on in the picture? What do you see that makes you say that?
What story is depicted here?
Who are the people? What does their appearance (clothes, faces, etc.) tell you about them? What are they doing?
Where are they (location and time period)?
What is the most important part of the painting? How do you know?
What conclusions can you draw from this work of art?

Tell students to write a reflective entry in their process journal to create a record of their thoughts at this point in the project.

5. Put the students in groups of three to exchange their stories. Remember that students should be familiar only with the work of art that they were assigned, not the ones their peers were assigned. Have students create a work of art based on their peer’s writing. Drawings, collage, and computer imaging programs can be used to create the works of art depending on the students’ comfort level with various media. Ask students to reflect on the process of creating art in their process journal.

6. Tell students to exchange their work of art with the third member of the group. Repeat Step 4 using the students’ work of art instead of the original work.

7. Display printouts of the original works of art on the wall or a bulletin board with the actual text from the handout. Have students place their stories and art with the original work. As a class, compare the different versions of the stories and art. Discuss:

Comparing the source text with original work of art and writing from Step 4
How did the original artist choose to interpret or depict the source text?
How did those decisions influence the way that you interpreted the art?
How similar or different were the first student stories from the actual text?

Creating a work of art
What decisions did you have to make to create a work of art based on your peer’s story?
For example: Which characters did you show? How did you dress them or select their hair color? How did you determine what parts of the story you could tell visually? How did you show actions? What were the most effective tools for telling a story visually? How are these choices subjective? How did the choices affect meaning and interpretation?

Compare the second student story with the works of art and texts
How similar or different were the second student stories from the previous texts?
How do texts change as they are interpreted multiple times?

8. As a conclusion, have students look over their entries in their process journals from the course of the project. Ask students to write an entry summarizing how their thinking developed over the course of the project.

  • The discussion, writing, and art activities may be used to determine students’:
  1. understanding of literature as a source for artists.
  2. comprehension of the content of a work of art and written text.
  3. ability to make decisions about what to create.



Pseudo Jacopino's use of simultaneous narrative, the combination of two distinct episodes in the same work, was a compositional device often employed by Medieval artists. To the left, Mary, Joseph, angels, and the ox and donkey reverently worship the newborn Christ Child, who lies in a manger under an open shed while, seated before the same structure, Mary and the infant Jesus receive the gifts of the three kings from the East.

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