Teaching Students About Neoclassical Art


Neoclassical art, which emerged in the mid-18th century and flourished through the 19th century, is a critical aspect of art history that needs to be explored and understood by students of all ages. This artistic movement sought to bring back the principles of ancient Greek and Roman art, emphasizing balance, simplicity, and discipline. Here are some tips to help educators teach students about the essential aspects of Neoclassical art.

Provide an understanding of the historical context

Before diving into specific artworks, it’s essential to explain the historical context in which Neoclassical art emerged. Students should understand how Enlightenment-era ideas of rationality and order influenced the movement. Discuss important events such as the discovery of ancient ruins like Pompeii and Herculaneum, which generated renewed interest in classical antiquity.

Teach about influential artists

Many prominent artists made significant contributions to Neoclassicism, such as Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Antonio Canova. Give your students an overview of these artists’ lives and their most notable works – examples include David’s “The Death of Socrates,” Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque,” and Canova’s “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.”

Analyze specific artworks

Select key examples of Neoclassical art to analyze form, style, and content. Discuss elements such as symmetry, proportion, and storytelling within each artwork. Encourage students to compare pieces from different artists or periods within the movement to recognize trends and shifts in style.

Explore underlying themes and principles

Discuss overarching themes like balance, harmony, restraint, idealism vs. realism, nationalism, or politics present in Neoclassical works. This exploration will provide deeper insight into how their culture influenced artists’ choices and subjects.

Connect Neoclassicism to other movements

Providing context for these works is as essential as teaching the concrete aspects of Neoclassical art. Show students how the movement evolved from Rococo and Baroque, and how it inspired subsequent periods like Romanticism and Realism. Encouraging students to compare and contrast different artistic movements will deepen their understanding and appreciation of the interconnected nature of art history.

Create hands-on activities

Art is best understood when experienced firsthand, so consider incorporating practical activities into your lessons. Assign projects like creating drawings that adhere to Neoclassical principles of symmetry, proportion, or storytelling. Interactive activities increase engagement and solidify understanding.

Emphasize interdisciplinary connections

While primarily rooted in visual arts, Neoclassicism also influenced literature, architecture, decorative arts, and music. Introducing these connections can provide a broader perspective on how Neoclassical ideals pervaded various aspects of society and culture.


Teaching students about Neoclassical art can be an enriching experience for both educators and learners. By providing historical context, discussing influential artists, analyzing specific artworks, exploring themes, drawing connections to other movements, incorporating hands-on activities, and emphasizing interdisciplinary connections, you can help students develop a well-rounded understanding and appreciation for this complex artistic period.

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