Japanese Brush Painting Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students will explore the aesthetics and ideologies of Japanese brush painting. They will apply their knowledge to their own original compositions.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify Japanese brush paintings and contextualize them historically
  • Describe the aesthetic and symbolic content of Japanese brush paintings
  • Complete their own Japanese-style brush paintings


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.


Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.



  • Begin with an image of a monochromatic Japanese brush painting. Don't tell students anything about it, but ask them to analyze it based purely on what they see.
    • What sort of painting is this? What defines the aesthetic? How are color, shape, and line depicted?
    • Why do you think the artist painted the landscape this way? What does this mean from an artistic perspective?
  • Hand out printed copies of Japanese Brush Painting: Techniques & History. Select two students to each read aloud one of the two paragraphs in the section ''What is Japanese Brush Painting?'' then discuss:
    • Why would you guess that artists would choose to paint landscapes in a monochromatic scheme?
  • Continue to read the lesson as a class, selecting students to read each paragraph aloud. Read through the sections ''History and Meaning of Japanese Brush Painting'' and ''Capturing the Essence'' then discuss:
    • Does this change your opinions about monochromatic painting?
    • Why does the author say that the black lines ''resemble'' material forms? Is that different than saying that black lines depict objects or landscapes?
    • What is the goal of sumi-e? Why don't details or even accuracy matter? How is this different from landscape painting in the Western tradition?
    • Can a landscape have a soul? What does this tell us about traditional Japanese spiritual beliefs?
  • Continue reading the lesson aloud through the end. Discuss this information as a class.
    • What are the materials used in sumi-e? Are these materials significant? How would the symbolism or aesthetic of sumi-e change if the materials were changed?
    • How do the techniques of sumi-e reflect the ideology of the art form? What is the relationship between the process of making art and the final product? Is there a consistent symbolism that carries from process through product?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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