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How Observant Are You?

For Grades 3–12

Art © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Part I: Looking at Still Life #20 . . . and Then Looking Again
Part II: Looking Around
Related Resources
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Tom Wesselmann
(American, born 1931)
Still Life #20, 1962
Mixed media
48 x 48 x 5 1/2 inches (121.9 x 121.9 x 14 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1962
Background Information for Educators


  • Students will observe different works of art, objects, and environments and analyze them from direct observation and from memory
  • Students will compare the results of the two above types of analysis
  • Students will create works of art using combinations of drawing from observation and drawing from memory
  • Students will become familiar with Pop artist Tom Wesselmann


  • Image for class display
  • Eight simple objects
  • Large-format white paper
  • Pencils, markers, and/or colored pencils
  • Glue
  • Activity Sheet (optional)


  • Before doing this exercise with your students, it is important that you read the lesson plan through carefully and spend some time looking at the work of art on your own.
  • We suggest that the first phase of this lesson plan be done as part of the general classroom routine, without any specific introduction. Have the image on display when students first come into the classroom. Instruct them to look at the image as part of their morning routine, but do not tell them why. Leave it on view for awhile as part of their classroom environment.
  • When you are ready to begin the lesson plan, take away the image. Ask students to list or to draw (if they do not know the names of all the items) everything they remember about the work of art – this could be objects that are included, colors, types of lines, or any other aspect that they can recall.
  • Once they have finished, have the students compare their recollections with those of a classmate. Then show the image again. Discuss how much (or how little) they remembered, and the types of objects that are most frequently listed.
  • Guide the students in looking at the work of art. Identify the items included and where they might be found in someone's home. Do we use some of the same products today? Do they look any different? Why might packaging change over time?
  • Make sure that the class understands that the image on the cabinet is a reproduction by Wesselmann of a work by another artist (Piet Mondrian). Then ask them to find similarities between the Mondrian reproduction and Wesselmann's composition (for example: the horizontal white rectangles in Mondrian could be compared to the two shelves in the cabinet; when the cabinet is closed, it forms a red square – just like the one in Mondrian's painting; Mondrian's vertical yellow shape with the black square above follows the general shape and color of the bananas; the blue rectangle in Mondrian could refer to a number of parts of the still life, such as the color of the table, the shape of the glass of Coke, or the color and shape of the Ajax jar in the cabinet). Remember to be open to all interpretations! (More images of the work are available at the bottom of this lesson plan page.)
  • Take the image off, and ask them to make their list or drawing again. Compare and discuss the two lists or drawings.


Pop artists encouraged people to look more closely at the everyday objects around them. How observant are your students?

Classroom and Classmates

How well do the students know their own classroom? They come in everyday, do their work, interact with each other and teachers, and go home! Here is a list of possible activities to see how well they know an environment in which they spend several hours each day!

  • Ask students to draw something in the classroom that's behind them without turning around.
  • Send one student out of the room, then ask the class what color shirt he or she was wearing, or something else about his or her clothing or accessories.
  • Wear two different shoes to school and see if anyone notices.

Observation Versus Memory

How does an individual's mental concept of an object compare to the visual reality? How is everyone's perception different?

  • For this activity, you will need eight everyday, fairly simple objects (suggestions: paper clip, pencil, apple, rock, mug, leaf, sponge, shoe), two 11 x 17 inch or 8 x 14 inch pieces of paper for each student, regular pencils, and markers or colored pencils.
  • Have each student fold each piece of paper into eight equal segments.
  • Write the names of the eight objects on the chalkboard; without showing the students the objects, ask them to draw from memory (their mental concept of the object) one in each of the segments on the first piece of paper.
  • Provide an opportunity for each student to draw one or more of the objects from direct observation in the segments on the second piece of paper—urge them to look very carefully and draw them in as much detail as possible.
  • Compare the drawings (mental concept vs. visual reality) and discuss differences with the class.
  • Have students cut out the direct observation drawings and arrange them in a still life composition on another piece of paper. Students can create their own pop artworks by adding color and an environment around the objects using markers or colored pencils.


Activity Sheet (PDF)


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standard for Social Studies 1 (for older students who focus on Pop art and its use of everyday objects in the 1960s)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 (especially when comparing the composition to the Mondrian poster), 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 6