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Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Frank Gehry
Teacher Lessons

Creator: Nancy Ratzloff
Title: "Something Fishy," adapted from Art Education, May 1991
Medium used in production activity: clay
Target Age: Grades 3-5


Students will be introduced to cultural differences in artistic style and develop their critical skills by examining four artworks with a common subject: fish. They will create their own clay fish sculptures using their knowledge of fish anatomy from science class, and natural bilateral symmetry of color and form found in nature.

Materials Needed:

  1. reproductions of "fish" art
    • Chinese scroll with swimming fish (A.D. 1068-1085 )
    • Clan Hat from the Northwest Coast of North America (1850-1925)
    • Roy Lichtenstein's 1978 sculpture, Goldfish Bowl II
    • Frank Gehry's 1929 sculpture, Standing Glass Fish
  2. lots of images of fish ( freshwater and tropical )
  3. chart of fish anatomy
  4. earthenware clay or any of the new air-dry clays or wet-set clay
  5. rolling pins, slab sticks
  6. clay tools
  7. newspaper
  8. glazes or paints
  • collect visual images (reproductions)
  • prepare information and discussion questions concerning the reproductions
  • prepare materials for demonstration

Procedure (three or four 50-minute art classes):

  1. Introduce the four artworks to the students. Have them guess where the art may have come from. Ask them what the art could tell us about the artists who created it. Ask if perhaps the art may have any purpose. (10 minutes)

  2. Briefly explain the origin, artist intent, and purpose of each piece. Explain what a scroll is. Discuss the difference between a painting and a sculpture. Discuss why fish were used as subjects for all these artworks. Discuss the importance of fish to the represented cultures and artists and to the student's own cultures. (15 min.)

  3. Demonstrate the method for creating a clay fish sculpture using the slab method. (15 min.)
    1. Roll out two oval-shaped clay slabs using rolling pin and slab sticks.
    2. Form a clay "pocket" by pinching the edges of the two slabs together and stuffing with a wad of newspaper for support.
    3. Turn the pocket of clay with newspaper stuffing over and form the fish shape by squeezing the clay to form a tail and the mouth. Pinch out the dorsal fins, pectoral fins, and anal fins. Keep the bottom of the fish open so it's easy to remove the newspaper.
    4. This lesson works well in collaboration with a classroom teacher as an interdisciplinary lesson with science and art. The students may create their own interpretations of a fish, real or imaginary, but still include the basic fish parts studied in science (mouth, tail, gills, eyes, dorsal fins, anal fins, pectoral fins, and scales). Students should also keep in mind the bilateral symmetry of fish.
    5. Details and texture can be added with various objects or clay tools pressed into the wet clay. end of first class period)

  4. Second class period. Students create their fish. (50 minutes)

  5. Third class period. Fish have air dried or have been bisque-fired and are ready to be glazed or painted. This could take one or two class periods.

Each student is responsible for his or her own workspace and assigned art helpers put away materials and clean off art tables.


Students will prepare their fish sculptures for an art show by creating a labels. Each label will show title and artist's name.

The teacher will evaluate each sculpture by observing its sculptural qualities and checking for bilateral symmetry and the inclusion of the basic parts of a fish.

Students will reflect on the meanings of the four introduced artworks and write a short paragraph on the meaning or "story" of their own fish.

Minnesota student with fish sculpture
Minnesota student with
fish sculpture


sculpture--Three-dimensional art.

scroll--A portable art object usually made of paper or cloth that tells a story as it unrolls.

bilateral symmetry--When objects on one side of a center line are identical to those on the other side.

culture--For the purposes of this unit, culture is the values, customs, language hustory, and traditions of a group of people. This term includes, but is not exclusive to, ethnic origin.

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Discussion/Activities, About the Artist, About the Art, Teacher Lessons

Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons