Teaching Artist > Lesson Plans

Artist: Jenny Holzer
Medium: Mixed Media/ Conceptual Art School: Barry Elementary
Grade Level: 6
Worksheet: Jenny Holzer
Computer projector- online examples of projected images by Jenny Holzer
List of “truisms” used by Jenny Holzer
Field trip- Exhibition at the MCA- “Jenny Holzer: Protect, Protect”
White drawing paper (9x11)
Fine tip black Sharpie marker
Brushes (longer hairs to create watercolor washes)
Multi-color Sharpie markers
Colored masking tape (binding)


Jenny Holzer Text Public Space Medium
Projection Truism Wash Velum
Classified Declassified Censored

Educational Strategies

Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual artist who began using text in art in 1977. The main focus of her work is using words and ideas in a public space. Street posters are her favorite medium, but she also places messages and art on benches, stickers, t-shirts and on the Internet. Most recent works have included projecting words and poetry onto large building in major cities including the Museum of contemporary Art in Chicago. By looking at specific examples of her work, students will discuss how the text relates to the building she chose and what message she is sending to the people who see it. Students will also discuss the impact of public art and why artists such as Jenny Holzer present their work in public spaces instead of in the traditional museum or gallery setting. Works by Jenny Holzer to be discussed and presented include:

Truisms (1977–) probably her most well-known work. Holzer has compiled a series of statements and aphorisms ("truisms") and has publicized them in a variety of ways: listed on street posters, in telephone booths, on one of Times Square's gigantic LED billboards, and on a race car.

For the City (2005), nighttime projections of declassified government documents on the exterior of New York University's Library, and poetry on the exteriors of Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library in Manhattan [5]

For the Capitol (2007), nighttime projections of quotes by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt about the role of art and culture in American Society. Projected from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts onto the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island in Washington DC. [6]

Redaction Paintings (2008), reproduced recently released declassified memos with much of the text blocked out with censors.

"The works with declassified material are from my sometimes frantic (witness the number of paintings) worrying about the war and the changes in American society. There is an unusually close connection between this artwork and my private politics (beliefs)…”


Lesson 1: Worksheets about Jenny Holzer (attached and see source material above)” will be distributed to the class. Discussion about the examples of work and the artists mentioned in the materials (specifically focusing on Holzer) will coincide with viewing and critiquing examples from Holzer’s Truisms, For the City and Redaction Paintings via the internet and projector. While the information is being shared and evaluated, students will be required to fill in the definitions for the vocabulary terms text, public space, medium, projection, declassified and, censored. Questions to be presented to the class include, “Why do some artist present their work in public spaces?” “How do they choose the text and location for their artwork?” “How does Holzer's work express how she feels about political or personal issues?”

Students will be asked to think of places that are important to them, such as school, their home, places of worship, or homes of friends and family members. On a piece of scratch paper, students are to brainstorm and list as many words that describe their chosen place, how they feel about it or what it represents to them. Students will also begin a pencil drawing of that location. The final product will be a combination of a painting of the place they have chosen layered with descriptive words on velum paper.

Homework: Bring in a picture or make a sketch at home that will help you create a detailed drawing of the place you have chosen for this project. Students are required to choose a building unless the teacher approves an alternative.

Lesson 2 and 3: A quick review of last weeks presentation will help the students focus on creating a work of art that combines text and painting to create a work of art with a message about a special place.

Looking at photographs or their sketches as a guide, the students will create a pencil drawing of their chosen place adding as much detail as they can remember.

When finished with the drawing, students will review their list of descriptive words. They will be encouraged to add new words and use dictionaries and thesauruses to develop more meaningful and descriptive vocabulary. Words like “nice” “good” “hard” “cool” will and other easy answers will be discouraged. The final list of words will be written on velum using a pencil first. Students can use decorative handwriting or shaped letters to add their own personal flair to the project as long as the text remains easy to read.

Lesson 4: Using black, fine point tipped Sharpie markers, student will go over their building drawing being sure to trace all details and marks neatly creating clean, bold lines. Colored permanent markers will be used to trace and fill in the words on the velum paper. Other decorations (hearts, smiley faces, squiggly lines, etc) will be discouraged—referencing Holzer’s work, the words should be easy to read and not have other embellishments to distract from their message. Students can periodically place their sheet over their drawing to make decisions about haw much they want to obscure the drawing that will be placed behind the text.

Lesson 5: Students will watch a demonstration on creating washes using watercolors and how a wash is different than creating dark, bold brush strokes. After practicing and deciding a color strategy, students will paint their buildings using layered washes of color. Realism is encouraged, but not required.

Lesson 6: Students will place the velum text sheet over their finished painting. Colored masking tape will be distributed around the room and the teacher will demonstrate how to cut lengths of tape the length of the outside edges of the paper they will be binding. Laying the masking tape parallel to the edge of the paper, half of the sticky side of the tape will adhere to the back of the painting, they be wrapped around and pressed evenly over the top of the velum sheet, binding the 2 artworks together. This process will be repeated for each side of the art. Extra tape should be trimmed away if necessary.

Finished projects will be mounted on the wall. Students will be asked to volunteer to share their finished work. Students will also be asked, “How is your artwork the same/different than Jenny Holzer’s? “ “Why did you choose the building in your art?” “What message are you sending with the text you placed over your painting?” “Would the artwork give the same message without the text or without the painting? What would be different?”


Students will receive and fill in vocabulary relating to the project they are working on.
Time to practice making watercolor washes will be given before being applied to the final project.
Students will be encouraged to experiment with different lettering for their text before beginning to fill in the velum sheet.

English as a Second Language
Students will be given plenty of opportunity to ask questions and will sit near students that can assist with more difficult translations if necessary.
Teacher will give both oral and visual instruction (demonstrations).

Students with Disabilities
A worksheet containing the definitions for this units vocabulary terms will be provided to allow enough time to copy onto the students’ own sheet.
The Internet can be used to find an image of the building the students wants to draw to provide information to help while drawing.
If the student has difficulty with writing, a computer can be used to type and print the text.
A thesaurus and dictionary will be provided to help find words.

Were the students able to define and show evidence that they understood the vocabulary terms introduced for this lesson?
Did the students understand what public art is and why it is created?
Can the students identify the messages in the work by Jenny Holzer?
Was the student able to use the art materials provided to create a painting of a building they consider important?
Did the student use text to create a message about why the building they chose is important?



Jenny Holzer
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