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David Bigelow The Spy

Lesson Plan | David Bigelow: Cultural Values – MMoCA


The Spy, 1981, etching 


Visual Art, Social Studies, Civics, Language Arts 


Luke Kloberdanz 

Essential Questions

  1. How do our cultural norms and mores help us to feel included and how do we learn to appreciate the differences found in other cultures? 

Grade Level



  • Students will learn about the different values cultures have and how those values differentiate groups from one another. They will learn the value of understanding differences and symbolically take on a trait from another culture within the classroom. Students will use their understanding to help build a strong classroom community.


In David Bigelow’s etching, The Spy, the artist has shown a group of rhinoceroses with one clever hippopotamus trying to fit in. Within the image one can witness a community of rhinoceroses (and one sneaky hippopotamus) carrying on the everyday tasks we find in human culture. The hippo’s actions are representative of cultural experiences students also partake in—that of trying to it in. Using The Spy as a neutral platform, students will discuss differences and similarities between the rhinos and the hippo. They will carry this idea forward by discussing how they are different from one another, and how they try to fit into a larger group. This discussion can include roles within groups, the classroom, the community, and how people everywhere tend to have cultural mores and norms that help them to feel included. These beliefs also differentiate groups of people from one another. Students will refocus on the values that they have in common and those that point to differences between them. Students will then make a work of art that represents one, or more, of the cultural values they learn about through research.


This activity is aligned with community building within the classroom and civics. Share David Bigelow’s etching, The Spy, with the students. Give them time to observe all the intricate details in the etching. Conduct a whole-group discussion about the similarities and differences between the rhinoceroses and the hippopotamus. Include discussion of how the hippo is trying to fit in. Carry this metaphor into the students’ lives by helping them to define the differences and similarities among them. Encourage students to share with the group those traits that make them unique. Let them know that they should tell only the values that they are comfortable sharing with the class.

Explain to students that, like the hippopotamus in The Spy, they will imagine themselves as belonging to a culture other than their own. Explain to the students that they will research the cultural traits of various peoples, define why these traits are important to the cultures of study, and select a trait(s) to represent. Students will select a cultural value that is different from their own and respectfully represent that value in a work of art. They may choose a format of their choice, such as a photograph, a painting, or a collage. Included with the visual representation will be a written description of the cultural trait(s) depicted, including what is unique or special about that trait. Students should also describe what they have learned and now value about the cultural that they have studied and why it is important and beneficial to live in a society with unique cultures. Involve students in a discussion of whether to display their artworks individually or as a group.


Smart Board and/or LCD projector, display area, nonfiction texts about different cultures 


Surrealism, Chicago Imagist, scale, proportion, juxtaposition, foreground, middle ground, background 


Language Arts, Social Studies 


Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.3, RL.4.4, RL.4.6 / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.1, RI. 4.3, RI.4.6, RI.4.7 / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.4.3, RF.4.4 / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2, W.4.4, W.4.5 / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1, SL.4.3, SL.4.5 / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.4.3, L.4.5, L.4.6

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