Art of Benin

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12798

Art of Benin was not a person like the Sheriff of Nottingham or Saul of Tarsus. Benin is an African country whose art tells a lot about its history. Learn to analyze culture from artistic expression!


People and Their Environment, Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • From where do artists get their inspiration?

No matter what type of art, it has to come from somewhere!

Art can have a magical effect on people.

The colors, the forms, the ideas, and the stories expressed in works of art can almost seem like they are from another world. Very often, you or I might stare blankly at a sheet of paper or a canvas, trying to come up with a good idea for a drawing or painting.

  • How do artists come up with their brilliant ideas?

The philosopher Plato believed — like a lot of us still do today — that good art comes from inspiration. He said that we connect with a better and more pure world somewhere deep inside our soul.

Art, he claimed, is an expression of the artist’s experiences in that inner world.

Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that was a silly idea. He said that an artist creates their art by developing techne, the Greek word for skill.

In other words, you must practice, practice, and practice some more to develop great works of art.

Take a moment and reflect on the following question and write your response in your notebook or journal.

  • Which of these two views do you think is more accurate: Plato’s view or Aristotle’s view?
  • What makes you think that way?

It may be that both of these thinkers were correct; maybe technical skill and experience are important for expressing the beautiful ideas that we experience in our inner world. Artists draw on many different sources for their work, including the history of art.

Look at an example to help understand how history influences art: the art of Benin.

Benin is a small nation in West Africa with a rich history. Over 40 different ethnic groups live in Benin, and their distinctive mix of cultures, religions, and traditions has produced some pretty amazing art.

  • Can you locate Benin on this map?
  • With which countries does it share borders?

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The traditional arts of the people of Benin drew ideas from their beliefs, cultures, and natural surroundings.

Use the resources below to browse some galleries of traditional Beninise arts. As you do, write down your responses to the following questions.

  • What are some of the materials used to produce these works?
  • What common shapes or forms do you notice?
  • What values or ideas do you think these works of art communicate?
  • What did you discover?

Reflect on the following questions and record your responses in your notebook or journal.

  • How would you describe traditional Beninese art to someone who has never seen it before?
  • What was your favorite piece of all and why?
  • What do you think was the purpose of art in traditional societies? In Beninese society?

One of the fun things about history is that you can trace ideas over time and see how they grow and change over the centuries. The same idea applies to art history!

In the Got It? section, take a look at some contemporary Beninese art and see if you can find similar patterns and ideas.

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