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Students will closely examine the work of artist Pablo Picasso, thinking critically about what they see. Students will understand how Picasso’s personal life heavily influenced the subject matter and style of his artworks. This lesson will also prepare students for their visit to the de Young.

Part 1: Connecting Composition and Context | Part 2: Individual Investigations | Post-Visit Activity Suggestions | Standards



Students will gain a better understanding of Pablo Picasso and his body of work.


Students will think and write critically about the ways our identities and environment influence what we create (as they did Picasso’s body of work).


Students will hypothesize the reasons Picasso chose his subject matter, understanding the ways current events and personal environment play a role in artists’ production.

Part 1: Connecting Composition and Context (approximately 30 minutes)


  • pencil
  • paper
  • Appendix A: I See/I Think/I Wonder
  • Woman with Clasped Hands postcard


1. Introduction
Let students know that they will soon be going on a field trip to the de Young to see the exhibition Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. In order to prepare for their visit, students will get an opportunity to look closely at the work of Picasso, getting to know who the artist was as a person and as an artist. Ask students what they know about the artist. Any answers are acceptable; they can be related to his personal life or his art—nothing is incorrect. Write answers on the board as a list or spidergram. (Save this list for the class discussion at the end of Part 2.)

2. Looking at Picasso’s Work
Next, students will look at the first image, Woman with Clasped Hands, together as a class. Distribute the Woman with Clasped Hands postcards and, if possible, project an image for students to see using the online image gallery.

a. Prompt students to use Appendix A: I See/I Think/I Wonder to observe, think, and wonder.

b. In pairs, students use the “I see/I think/I wonder” worksheet to brainstorm. As a team, students then share their answers with the class. This will allow quieter and less engaged students to share their ideas first with a partner before sharing them with the entire class. The sentence frames included in the worksheet will also help ELL students feel more comfortable with the process.

Note: The teacher should write down shared answers for students to see, grouping answers in categories/patterns as they emerge or after.

c. After observing, thinking, and wondering students will answer the discussion questions that are paired with Woman with Clasped Hands. Answers should be shared out loud and together as a class.

Discussion Questions for Woman with Clasped Hands (also found on image postcard):
1. Look at the figure. Does it look like other portraits you’ve seen? Why or why not? Describe the features you see.
2. Does the work seem incomplete or is it finished? Why do you think that?
3. Who do you think the person might be? Do you think it is a portrait of a man or woman? Why?

d. After class discussion, students will brainstorm with the same partner to describe the image and answer the question: What do you think Picasso is trying to express with this piece? Why do you think that?

This should just be a quick discussion. This provides students a moment to think about their answers and get them out before a larger class discussion. After a few minutes of partner discussion, have students come back as a class. Student pairs will answer together as a team and each pair should provide at least one thing they discussed. Answers should be written for students to see.

e. Distribute Woman with Clasped Hands fact sheet or project it for students to see.

Woman with Clasped Hands Facts

  • Completed in Paris in spring 1907, this painting is oil on canvas.
  • Picasso painted this as a study for a larger-scale painting.
  • Although entitled Woman with Clasped Hands, this painting can be understood as a self-portrait of Picasso: the sweep of hair and the blocked out eye are typically used by the artist in his self-portraits. See if you can find any other examples of this on your visit to the de Young.
  • This work recalls Iberian sculpture, which has Greek and Egyptian influences. This can be seen in the figure’s broad chest and shoulders, as well as the way musculature is depicted.
  • In 1907, Picasso visited Paris’s Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadéro, which included art of Africa and Oceania, a trip that influenced Picasso greatly.
  • Picasso began to collect African art and use the appearance of African masks in his art, seen here in the facial features and the flattening of the face.
  • In 1907, Picasso also attended a retrospective of artist Paul Cézanne, which encouraged him to explore sculptural form in two dimensions—for example, in the breaking of the line of the arm in this self-portrait.
  • One of the two eyes is blocked out as if it were sightless. Picasso had lifelong fascination with blindness and sight. See if you can find any other examples of this on your visit to the de Young.

f. Have students volunteer to read one fact each aloud to the class.

g. After students have gone through the facts, have them discuss with their partners the following questions:

  • What were you surprised to learn about this image?
  • How is your own interpretation reinforced or changed by the facts?

Students should use evidence from the fact sheet to support their written work.

k. As with the previous discussion questions, have students share in pairs for a few minutes, then have the pair teams share with the class.

NOTE: In the next part of the lessons student will be going through this process again in pairs. Part 1 lesson provides opportunities for modeling the process: observation, discussion, responding to art, and interpreting facts. For Part 2, encourage students to use the fact sheet to support the arguments they make.

Part 2: Individual Investigations (approximately 45–60 minutes)


  • pencils
  • paper
  • Appendix A: I See/I Think/I Wonder
  • class set of Picasso curriculum postcards (without Woman with Clasped Hands)
  • Appendix B: Biography Timeline
  • Appendix C: Image Fact Sheets


1. Introduction 
Tell students that they will be doing the same process—I see/I think/I wonder—in pairs.

a. Distribute copies of the remaining six postcards to pairs of students.

b. As in Part 1, students in pairs complete the “I see/I think/I wonder” matrix on the handout or on a plain piece of paper, using sentence frames.

c. Staying in pairs, students answer the discussion questions associated with their image found on the back of each postcard. Students should talk with their partners about their answers.

d. After going through the given discussion questions together, each student individually writes a paragraph answering the following prompt:

Describe your image. What do you think Picasso is trying to express with this object. Why do you think that?

2. Connecting Art and Life
When the paragraphs have been finished, distribute to all the students Appendix B: Biography Timeline as well as the appropriate page from Appendix C: Image Fact Sheets for the specific object each student is working with. These handouts can be available in the front of the class so students can help themselves.

Students should read the biography timeline and their fact sheet. Students will then write another paragraph focusing on this prompt:

Refer to Picasso’s biography timeline and the fact sheet for your image. What did you discover about Picasso and your image that surprised you? How is your own interpretation reinforced or changed by the facts about your image? Use evidence from the biography timeline and fact sheet to support your claims.

3. Debrief as a class
Encourage students to share what they learned about Picasso and about their image. If there is time, have each pair share about their image, so the rest of the class can hear about the works of art they did not examine. The class can look back at their initial list of what they knew about Picasso and see what else they can add to it now.

After discussion, have students write one question they still have, either about Picasso, or any of the images distributed in the class.

a. This question should be brought with students to ask the docents during the exhibition tour.

b. Students also should share these questions with one another. They can write their questions on adhesive notes and bring them to the board, where they can be grouped based on themes that emerge. Or, if you are short on time, students can simply raise their hands and share their questions with the class.

Post-Visit Activity Suggestions

  • Ask students to think about the ways Picasso incorporated current events into his art. Did other artists of his time do this? Do artists today do this? Can they think of examples? Ask students to think of a current event that each is passionate about, and to locate and summarize an article in a newspaper that discusses this event. What perspective does the article show? What is the student’s perspective? Ask students to think of a way to that their perspective can be visually represented or expressed.
  • Explain that Picasso’s art was heavily influenced by his relationships with people and by other aspects of his personal life. His art, a collection of art objects, has become a way to understand the identity of the man. Ask students to think about how social media sites like Facebook and Twitter help them shape their own identities, similar to the way Picasso’s art reflected his life. Students choose a period of Picasso’s life and try to imagine what his Facebook page might look like if it had existed at that time. Students write an “about me” for his website. What work of art from this time might be his “profile picture?” Who would be his online friends? What are his interests?


English Language Arts
Reading: 9.2.3, 9.2.5
Writing: 9.1.1, 9.2.2b, 11.1.3

Visual Arts
Artistic Perception: 1.3
Historical Cultural Context: 3.3