“Afternoon of a Faun”

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Area: Art, Music
Grade Level: High School & Beyond, Middle School
Topics: art, Beauty, Music
Estimated Time Necessary: 45 minutes or more

Lesson Plan

To explore the similarities and differences between various artistic media on the same topic.
To explore the similarities and differences between various artistic media on the same topic, “Afternoon of a Faun,” with particular attention to how music specifically encapsulates meaning and feeling as compared to other media. This lesson is designed primarily as a way to begin philosophizing about music itself by comparing and contrasting it with other art forms (visual and embodied, with potential extensions for lyrical/poetic). The primary conceptual questions are: “how does music express meaning?” “How does music affect the way we feel?” “How is this similar or different from other art forms exploring the same topics?” “What makes music similar or different to visual art, dance, and/or poetry?”

Whole Sequence Breakdown:

Welcome and warm-up (c. 5-10 minutes)

Brief introduction to the “scene” of “Afternoon of a Faun” (5 minutes)

Exploring Various Media (20 minutes)

Whole-group share and discussion (20 minutes)

Possible extensions (for extra time, or additional lessons)

Welcome and Warm-up

  • Welcome students and share any updates, or follow-up on points from the last session.
  • Warm-up question: “What is one of your favorite works of art, and why?”
    1. My example: “Stay On It” by Julius Eastman; I like this piece because it somehow manages to be really catchy, really creative and artistic, and really open to interpretation and other art forms all at the same time.
  • Encourage students to give some more information about some of their choices, especially overlaps and differences between media that may come up.
    1. It is likely that students may groupthink default to one genre, likely visual “art,” so feel free to highlight different answers that acknowledge different artistic media as a way of hinting at the main themes for the day.

Brief Introduction to “Afternoon of a Faun”

  • Check prior knowledge: “Can anyone tell me what faun is?” “Has anyone heard of ‘Afternoon of a Faun’?”
  • Fill in gaps as necessary with the following information:
    1. A faun is a mythical creature: half human, half goat.
    2. Dating back to Greek and Roman mythology, Fauns are said to play the pan pipes, and to be somewhat naughty or ornery.
    3. They’re known in part for their love of pleasure: relaxing, enjoying food and drink, playing, etc.
  • Introduce song: “We’re going to listen to a piece called, ‘Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune’ or ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’ by Claude Debussy. It’s been called a symphonic poem. I want you to think about what it makes you think about, how it makes you feel ,and what scene you might imagine while we listen. Afterwards, we’ll look at some other art forms exploring the same topic.”

Explore Various Media

  • Play a recording of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”
    1. Note: This piece is long. You could choose an excerpt with younger students, or try letting them lay around the room on the floor, staring at the ceiling as if playing “the cloud game” to encourage introspection during the longer piece.
  • Also have prepared 1-2 visual art pieces exploring the same topic, preferably from similar artistic movements/time periods.
    1. Jerome Robbins’ choreography based on Najinsky.
    2. A translation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Afternoon of a Faun”
      1. Note: this poem contains erotic language and imagery and would be best done as either an excerpt, or only with older kids.
  • Ideally, if in person, this could be set up gallery exhibition style with different “stations.” Students would be allowed 20 minutes to explore the various media before coming back together to discuss. In lieu of this, you can do a curated digital exhibition moving through the pieces all together.

 Whole-Group Share and Discussion

  • Ask students to share their impressions of the different media. What stood questions arose or stood out?  The teacher should supplement these as needed depending on the anticipated depth of discussion arising from the suggested questions and points (I.e., if it seems that the questions /points will be rather quickly discussed, the teacher should supplement with one or two questions or points with more opportunities for longer philosophical discussion.) For examples, see the Discussion Questions tab of the lesson plan.

Possible Extensions 

  • Explore artistic creation after conversation-based philosophical exploration.
    1. Could we make our own art to encapsulate an “Afternoon of a Faun”? What would you want it to look/sound/feel like?
    2. Could we extend this to smell or taste? If so, how? What would we call those art forms?
  • Explore impressionism more fully. What does it mean as a philosophy and school of art? Is all art impressionism to some extent?
  • Do a similar lesson with a different topical theme and see if that changes students perspectives.
  • Explore whether or not there’s a difference between recorded/reproduced art (as all of this is), and live art.


Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the similarities or differences between the media?
  • Did one affect you more than another? Which one and why?
  • How did the various pieces make you feel?
  • Does music communicate or express something the other art forms don't or can't? What about the other art forms?
  • Which of our senses do you think is the most important for understanding ideas and why?
  • Which of our senses to you think is the most important for understanding feelings and why?
  • Does art help up understand the connections or differences between ideas and feelings?
  • Which piece was your favorite, and why?
  • Which pieces would you say were beautiful?
  • Are all of these "art"?
  • Would you say that all of these were "good art" or "bad art" or is it a mixed bag?
  • Why do some people like one type of art more than another?
  • Does combining art forms give us a better understanding of a topic, or a more limited one?


This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Jack Flesher, University of Washington.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

If you would like to change or adapt any of PLATO's work for public use, please feel free to contact us for permission at info@plato-philosophy.org.