Virtues – Animal Archetypes


Hard Slab Animal Sculptures

Grade Level

Secondary – Advanced


Through this unit of study, students will learn what virtues their communities value and promote, allowing the students to assess whether their own personal beliefs align with these virtues. If they do, then students can move forward as a confident and engaged member of their own community.  If their community’s virtues do not align with their beliefs, they will be encouraged to seek out or develop their own set of virtues to guide them as they progress through life.

In this unit of study, students will also work to develop their abstract thinking skills through the creation of symbols based off abstract concepts. Highly developed abstract thinking helps students to more easily process complex ideas and to use theories or metaphors to solve problems.

Essential Questions

1. Why does my community value and promote these virtues?
2. How do we communicate the idea of a virtue to individuals in communities other than our own?


•   The student will be able to connect the abstract concept of virtues to concrete visual symbols
•   The student will be able to identify virtues that are valued and promoted in their communities today
•   The student will be able to design and construct a sculpture that serves as a visual symbol of one virtue, of their choosing


Class will begin with a presentation of three different works of art.  Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue  (1502)  by Andrea Mantegna, Black Virtue  (1943)  by Roberto Matta Echaurren, and Virtue and Vice: Virtue  (1972)  by Enrique Grau. The teacher and class will discuss what symbolic imagery they see in these works. After viewing the works the teacher will ask the students what the works of art have in common, which will then segue into a discussion about Aristotelian virtues. A PowerPoint presentation with the artworks and more information about virtues can be found here.

The students will then pick three of the Aristotelian virtues and create a thumbnail “sketch” of each one  in their sketchbooks. The thumbnail must use color and should fill a space no bigger than 1.5” by 2.5”. Each thumbnail sketch should serve as a visual representation of a virtue, using familiar symbols and images. Each student will need to complete at least three before moving on to the next part of the lesson.

Each student will be tasked with bringing in a list of five virtues from their own communities. Students should pick one of those five virtues to investigate further, and also choose an animal that best represents that virtue to them. The animal can be real, mythological, or completely fabricated but the students will need to justify their decision and and explain how the animal they chose symbolizes their virtue. Next, the students will begin preparation sketches of their chosen animal in sculptural form, with graphite, in their sketchbook. As the students are drawing they should be thinking about how they can create their animal using only hard slab shapes. Encourage them to use this drawing exercise as a way to plan the forms for their animal sculpture.

For the final project, students will watch two different video demonstrations on clay hand-building techniques. The first video covers wedging, and making clay slabs.  The second video shows the students how to cut the clay slabs and attach the pieces using score & slip.  In the final part of this lesson the students will create a small, clay sculpture of their animal using “hard slab” hand-building techniques. Both videos can be viewed below.

Guided Practice

What visual symbols do you see? What do you think they symbolize? Why do you think that? What are some other virtues that you can think of? Why is this considered a virtue? What is the opposite of this virtue, what is its vice? What symbols can you think of to represent this virtue?


When there are ten minutes left in class it is time to clean up.  After clean-up, when all students are seated quietly, use the Guided Practice questions to lead a brief discussion before ending class.


Guided Practice questions will be used as formative assessment during the lesson. If the students are unable to answer these questions, then they will need to be rephrased or simplified in a way that allows the students to demonstrate that learning is taking place. If a student is not clear on what they should be doing, the teacher will sit with them on an individual or small group basis and demonstrate the tasks that are required for the day’s lesson again until the student can confidently proceed.

The thumbnail sketches created during class and the list of virtues that the students bring to the next class will serve as summative assessment. The sketches will demonstrate that the students are able to relate the abstract concept of virtues to concrete visual symbols and that they are able to use these symbols to create art. The list of virtues that the students bring to the next class will demonstrate that they are able to identify virtues that are valued and promoted in their communities today.

The clay sculptures created for the final part of the project will also serve as summative assessment. This will demonstrate that the students are able to relate the abstract concept of virtues to concrete visual symbols and that they are able to use these symbols to create art. The students will also be given a rubric to guide them and to encourage self-evaluation as they create their sculptures.  This rubric will also be used to grade their final projects, and can be found here.


•  117.305 (c)(1)(A) – consider concepts and themes for personal artwork that integrate an extensive range of visual observations, experiences, and imagination
•  117.305 (c)(2)(B) – evaluate and justify design ideas and concepts to create a personal artwork;
•  117.111 (c)(2)(D) – create original artwork to communicate thoughts, feelings, ideas, or impressions;
•  117.111 (c)(2)(F) – create artwork, singularly and in a series, by selecting from a variety of art materials and tools appropriate to course work in drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, and design.


National Art Standards

•  Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
•  Anchor Standard #6. Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.