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Can Art Work Be Dangerous? Lesson plan with Waldorf Influence on the Chinese Cultural Revolution

China’s Cultural Revolution: Waldorf Inspirations

Central Focus/Overview:

The main idea of this lesson is for students to ponder the idea can artwork and literature be used to shape people’s beliefs. Can artwork be used to cover up things by a government or to send false ideas and images to people? Can artwork be misleading? And finally to answer the unit’s essential question, “Can artwork be dangerous?”

In this lesson the major procedures/steps will include reading about the censoring of art work in societies by Plato, reading about artwork and studying artwork during the Mao -era, exploring “social realism”, and re-education centers, apartment art and cynical realist art. In summary, the students will create an illustrated book answering the question can artwork be dangerous by writing a myth that defines the way artwork was used during the cultural revolution, how it promoted group think, and then through their own expression answering the essential question do they think artwork can be dangerous?

HOOK: Read to the students “The Little Chair that Wanted to Stand up” by Jacqueline Nett

Objectives/learning Goals: After our lesson is done students will have learned

  • Explored how leaders can use artwork as propaganda to send dangerous messages to their people and how governments can condemn their people’s art work and self expression as they see it as a threat to their regime.

  • Will know how artwork can impact belief systems, Plato’s ideas in the Statesman book 3 about how art work can demoralize our societies and should be censored, students will know about the history behind the cultural revolution, artwork under Mao, portraits of Mao, the hundred flowers campaign, the re-education system of the communist party toward the intellectuals, the four modernizations under Deng Xiaping, “apartment art” and “cynical realism art” after Tiananmen Square.

  • Students will be able to use fairy tales story lines, symbols, illustrations, texts, and words to create a Waldorf style book that demonstrates their understanding of the role artwork played during the cultural revolution and the history of the cultural revolution. Students will then answer the essential question do they believe artwork can be dangerous? How do some governments use artwork and why do some governments block artwork? Do they think some artwork should be censored? Can artwork degrade our morals as a society? Is it dangerous?

MATERIALS AND RESOURCES: Excerpts from Plato’s Statesman Book 3 and 10 of the Republic, article from Mao Era Art , The Refugee crisis isn’t about refugees. It’s About us by Ai Weiwei in The Guardian, The four part series of Cultural Revolution from Harvard University, article on Modern Art in China, student sketchbooks, journals, powerpoint presentation of artwork under Mao, pencils, watercolors, old magazines to cut out letters and pictures, paints and markers.

VOCABULARY AND ART HISTORY: Plato, Chairman Mao, Cultural revolution, communism, refugee, refugee camp, re-education, purge, universal human rights, dehumanisation, social realism, Tiananmen Square, Red Art, big character posters, dazibo, Bian Zhongyun

Artwork: Embedded in articles

PROCEDURE: Starting with the hook/motivation, write your lesson step-by-step so that every part is clear and builds upon the previous part. Make sure you include exploration, discussion, and demonstration where appropriate. Think about student-centered activities (where they are exploring, constructing knowledge) and teacher-centered portions. Leave some space for reinforcing skills, concepts, and vocabulary so that students get to practice new learning. Don’t forget the clean-up! Sample outline: (a full unit or main lesson will likely be more detailed, but this is a start!)

Day 1-2

Read the myth to them about “The Little Chair that would not sit down” then as a class answer the following questions alone in their learning journals to work with our intrapersonal skills sets.

  • Does art work tell us stories?

  • Whose stories are they telling?

  • Can we use our artwork to tell our story?

  • Can leaders or governments use artwork to tell stories about their countries and their leaderships?

  • Does art work always tell truthful stories? What happens when art is used to impact thinking of individuals? Can art be used to cover up ideas?

  • Can words impact your belief system? Can your words impact others beliefs?

  • Can artwork be dangerous? Can words be dangerous?

After our inner reflections are written down in our journals we will move into a circle discussion so our interpersonal skills can be honed as we have a circle discussion guided by these questions on the board.

Students will then read the article by Dr. Stephen Hicks on “Plato On Censoring Artist-A Summary” students will reflect on the article in their journals and re-visit their previous answers to the questions asked at the beginning of the lesson to see if there had been any change or growth in their answers.

The teacher will do a ten minute mini lesson on the cultural revolution and the People’s Republic of China.

Day 2-3

In small groups students will each read one of the four assigned articles and draw an illustration or comic book strip to descirbe the essence of the article. Each of the five groups will each be assigned an article listed below:

Group 1: Article from Mao Era Art ,

Group 2: The Refugee crisis isn’t about refugees.

Group 3: It’s About us by Ai Weiwei in The Guardian,

Group 4: The four part series of Cultural Revolution from Harvard University,

Group 5: Article on Modern Art in China,

Students will add an illustration and reflection to their sketch or blogs about their assigned article and make connections about the article they read to the Cultural revolution lesson from day one and our essential question, “Can artwork be dangerous?”

Students will share their findings, reflections and illustrations about their assigned articles with the class for a class discussion. I will start to ask the students how art or images can symbolize things? What pictures symbolize group think to them? What myths or stories can they think of that were also about group think? Does artwork always represent reality? How can we convey group think in our drawings, paintings and our sculptures? How can we show through our stories what convergent and divergent thinking looks like?

Day 3-4

The teacher will begin with a circle share of how we can use our drawings and our own myths to tell stories of our history and past and to answer ethical and moral questions about our contemporary culture.

Students will begin to create their own illustrative book about the cultural revolution. Before working each student will create draft sketches and work in pairs to consider scale, color, pose/gesture, any words/text or symbols to be included in their illustrative book and an artist thesis that includes: 1. Their hypothesis if artwork can be dangerous, 2. Historical/mythological background, 3. A question or idea for the viewer to consider about how images affect belief systems and how we can use our images to affect other people's beliefs.

Students will include a written work that explains the colors they used in their books, the symbols they used in their books and a reflective written piece that answers this lessons essential question can artwork be dangerous.


Essential questions like “Can art be dangerous?” innately allow for differentiation as they allow children and students from all levels to answer it on their own level. In particular our lesson on the cultural revolution allows for students from all multiple intelligence to flourish as it has reflection writing in journals for our intrapersonal learners, circle discussions and group work for our interpersonal work. We have visual work in the creation of our books and our books can be written in prose or using poetic verse. Students can create vocabulary box for students who might need more vocabulary skill building practice or for students who want to study the words more deeply by discovering their etymology. Students who may have work with blogs if difficulties with motor skills.


Students will be assessed by a check off list and rubric as indicated below:

1) Day 1 and 2: (Checklist and careful observations from the teacher through pictures and writing)

Students reflections in their journals on the essential questions, their interactions during the circle talk and their reflective writing piece and reaction from Plato’s writing about artwork.

2) Day 2 and 3: (Checklist and careful observations from the teacher through pictures and writing)

  • their sketchbooks and illustrations after reading each article in class

B) Their presentation of the article they read

3) Day 3 and 4- Final Project graded by rubric

  • Illustrative book will be graded by the accompany rubric

  • Written piece accompanying the book is included in the rubric grading.

4) Differentiation

Vocabulary box is submitted this is a check off list. Students can create a vocabulary box of word the key people and words from the unit with a picture, definition or using an etymology of a word.


1. Adapting Instruction to Multiple Intelligences

2. Froebel Facebook, Mobile Montessori, Virtual Reality Reggio, and Web Waldorf: Digital Resources, Art Education Philosophies, and Inclusive Teaching

3. Choosing Fairytales for Different Ages

4. The Main Lesson Block, Waldorf Education

5. Documentary on Waldorf Education

copyright: Jacqueline Nett 2018

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