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The World Around Us

For Grades 3–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Part I: Observing Sun, Tower, Airplane
Part II: Hands-on Art Project
Part III: Family Activity
Additional Suggested Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Robert Delaunay
(French, 1885–1941)
Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane), 1913
Oil on canvas
52 x 51 5/8 inches (132.1 x 131.1 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
A. Conger Goodyear Fund, 1964
Background Information for Educators


Although none of Amedeo Modigliani’s work directly reflects what was going on in the world around him, technological innovations were changing the way people traveled, grew crops, manufactured goods, communicated, and lived their lives. Some artists, such as Robert Delaunay (duh-low-nay), reveled in the new, and modern world, and celebrated it in their art. This lesson plan, written to be adapted for a variety of grade levels, will introduce your students to three significant technological feats of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and start them thinking about things in their own world that could change society forever.


  • Students will learn about three technologies from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries by viewing and discussing Robert Delaunay’s Sun, Tower, Airplane: the Eiffel Tower, the biplane, and the Ferris Wheel
  • Students will create a Delaunay-inspired work of art about their choice of new and exciting contemporary technologies
  • Students will write about new technologies and their potential to change lives now and in the future (see Optional Writing Assignment)
  • Students will use innovations from a particular historical era for research and create a work of art that reflects those innovations (see Additional Suggested Activity #2)
  • Students will learn about the psychology of color (see Additional Suggested Activity #3)


Image for class display


Show Sun, Tower, Airplane to your students—don’t forget to hide the title! Ask the class to identify anything that they can see. Don’t give them any hints at first, but help them along with clues if necessary. Share the information and discussion questions below as they discover for themselves some of the things that excited Robert Delaunay!



  • An abstracted version of the Eiffel Tower appears in green on the right, extending from the top of the canvas to the bottom.
  • The Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair, and was the tallest building in the world at that time.
  • It was designed by French engineer Alexandre Eiffel, and allowed Parisians to view their city from an exciting new vantage point.
  • Even though it was a triumph of engineering, many people considered it an eyesore, and wanted it torn down at the end of the Fair. Delaunay was fascinated by the Tower and painted it many times.
  • In 1906, a permanent radio station was installed in the Tower (probably to insure that it wouldn’t be torn down!). The artist wrote about "the poetry of the tower, which communicates mysteriously with the whole world." This may be a reference to early radio, which must have seemed truly mysterious to people in 1913.

Discussion Questions

  • Find an illustration or photograph of the Eiffel Tower and show the students what it actually looks like. What is their opinion? Have a vote: do they like it, or do they agree with many Parisians of 1889 that it should have been torn down? Ask them to give reasons for their choices.
  • Research the heights of various tall buildings throughout the world. What is currently the tallest? Second tallest? Why would a city want to have the tallest building in the world?
  • Have a discussion of what it would have been like to hear radio for the first time. How did that change people’s lives?



  • An abstracted biplane can be found at the top of the painting—it looks like a box kite.
  • The Wright brothers had successfully flown the first biplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, only ten years before Delaunay’s painting.
  • The inclusion of the biplane is also an homage to French aviator and inventor Louis Blériot, who in 1909 had been the first to fly across the English channel in a heavier-than-air machine.
  • When their father brought home a toy helicopter made of cork, bamboo, and paper, and powered by a twisted rubber band attached to twin propellers, Orville and Wilbur decided that one day they would fly.
  • The brothers supported their dream to fly with money made in their bicycle repair shop.

Discussion Questions

  • Airplanes must have seemed impossible at the time. How did they change people’s lives?
  • This work was painted just as the events that led up to World War I were heating up. How did airplanes change the face of war? This could be used as an opportunity to discuss the fact that not all inventions are used for the benefit of humanity.



  • The abstract Ferris wheel can be found in the middle right—it also resembles a waterwheel, or a staircase.
  • American engineer George Ferris invented this popular carnival ride in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was intended to show that American engineering could rival that of the French-designed and built Eiffel Tower.
  • The first Ferris wheel had thirty-six cars made of wood, and could hold up to sixty people.
  • Everyone was amazed by the new invention, but a little afraid of riding it for the first time. It’s hard to blame them though, since the first wheel was 264’ high (almost as tall as a football field is long)!

Discussion Questions

  • Ask your students if they have ever been on a Ferris wheel. What did they think? Was it fun? Scary? A great way to see the surrounding landscape?
  • What makes a good amusement park ride? Which is their favorite?
  • If they could design an amusement park ride, what would it be?

To see the photograph that Delaunay may have used as inspiration for Sun, Tower, Airplane, along with photographs of the Eiffel Tower, a biplane, and the first Ferris wheel, visit the Gallery’s new website for kids called Artgames at



  • Paper
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
  • Pencils for drawing
  • Magazines or newspapers for cutting out words
  • Scissors
  • Glue


Robert Delaunay painted things that were new and exciting about the world in which he lived.

  • Ask your students to think about things that are new and exciting in our own world—things that might affect how people live their lives in the future (such as airplanes and radio at the turn of the century). For example: computers, the Internet, digital cameras, cell phones, iPads, social networking (like Facebook and Twitter), cloud computing, the space shuttle, the International Space Station, etc.
  • Once they have decided, tell them to pretend that they are Robert Delaunay living today, and ask them to create a drawing of their selection(s).
  • Using the markers, crayons, or colored pencils, have them color the drawing to reflect their feelings about the item(s) they’ve chosen.
  • Give them the magazines or newspapers and ask them to cut out words that either describe the object(s) in their work of art or that express how they feel about them.
  • Have them glue the words on to their drawing (they can be creative about where they put them, and make them part of the design).

Optional Writing Assignment

If you would like to follow up the art project with a writing assignment, ask them to write about their choice(s)—why have those particular things changed the way people live their lives? Or how might they change lives in the future?


Activity Sheet (PDF)

Additional Suggested Activities

  1. Pick a modern convenience or two. Make a condensed symbol or logo out of it. Perhaps sketch it once in a realistic drawing, and then using that drawing, simplify it.
  2. Pick a period of history, research, and draw a few innovations of that time. See if someone else can guess the period of history.
  3. Explore the psychology of color. For example, some colors make people feel happy, while others imply sadness, anger, or a variety of other emotions. (Remember though, that reactions to colors are personal, and there are no right or wrong answers.)


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies 1, 2, 5 (see Additional Suggested Activity #2)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 2 (see Optional Writing Assignment), 4, 5, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (using the work as an informational text about the turn of the century in France), 10 (see Additional Suggested Activity #2), 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 1, 4 (plus 5 and 6 if drafts and presentations are developed from the writing), 7–9 (see Additional Suggested Activity #2), 10, 11 (New York only)


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description