Art and Craft

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Lesson Plan: Mental Illness and the Moral Compass

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In this lesson, students examine common perceptions of and beliefs about mental illness and then "debunk myths" (many of which students will first cite). Students will take a specific look at methods for managing mental illness symptoms, support systems that enable people with mental illness to lead healthy lives, methods for coping with mental illness (and its stigmas) and the question of whether mental illness impedes moral responsibility, as it is sometimes perceived to do.

Mark Landis is one of the most prolific art forgers of the modern era — and he isn't in it for the money. In the last 30 years he's copied hundreds of pieces, from 15th-century icons to works by Pablo Picasso and even Dr. Seuss, then donated them to museums across the country. When a tenacious registrar discovers the ruse, Landis must confront his legacy and a chorus of duped professionals intent on stopping him. But Landis is a diagnosed schizophrenic, driven since his teens to escape "the life of a mental patient," and ending the con isn't so simple. A cat-and-mouse caper told with humor and compassion, Art and Craft uncovers the universal in one man's search for connection and respect.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Identify and deconstruct various myths/stigma associated with people living with mental illness.
  • Explore concepts of mental illness and culpability.
  • Formulate ways to educate others about mental illness stigma.

GRADE LEVELS: 9-12, college


Family/Consumer Sciences, Psychology, Language Arts, Social Studies


  • Film clips from Art and Craft and equipment on which to show them
  • Sticky notepads
  • Markers
  • Viewing Chart (which can be found on the last page)

  • Read the background section for information about mental illness and stigma to guide classroom discussion.
  • Place several sticky notepads and markers in an accessible location in the classroom.

    One to two 50-minute class periods


    In preparation for the lesson, it may be helpful to read this brief guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Talking About Mental Illness Teacher's Guide: Section 1: Information About the Program


    Video clips provided in this lesson are from Art and Craft.

    Clip 1: "Mark's Mental Health History" (1:44 min.)

    The clip begins at 40:01 with Mark Landis saying, "I had a nervous breakdown when I was 17." It ends at 41:52 with Landis saying, "Oh, that's bad enough," and chuckling.

    This clip introduces Mark Landis and the mental health issues he faces.

    Clip 2: "What Do You Do For Fun?" (5:00 min.)

    The clip begins at 9:20 with Landis walking into a building marked PINE BELT MENTAL HEALTHCARE RESOURCES. It ends at 14:20 with Landis saying, "But they said I was inclined to be mischievous... from time to time."

    Landis goes to a health facility for a check-up and then explains his practice of forging famous and historic art pieces.

    Clip 3: "Introducing Mark Landis as a Forger" (1:39 min.)

    The clip starts at 7:26 with Matthew Leininger driving his car, then saying, "I've been following Landis for going on four years now." It ends at 9:05 with Leininger saying, "You know, the guy is a skilled artist."
    Leininger introduces Landis's art forgery.

    Clip 4: "Support" (2:29 min.)

    This clip begins at 46:39 with Landis saying, "Donna was the first caseworker that I had." It ends at 49:09 with his caseworker saying, "Mark is in fact in charge of himself."

    This clip introduces Donna English, Mark Landis's caseworker, as she asks him questions about how he's doing.

    Clip 5: "Some History" (2:14 min.)

    This clip begins at 20:29 with Landis saying, "Dad was a naval officer." It ends at 22:43 with Landis saying, "You get a little bit... a little boost, you know."

    Mark Landis talks about his parents and how he got started forging artwork.

    Clip 6: "Fantasy to Reality?" (4:16 min.)

    This clip starts at 28:46 with Landis through a church and lighting a candle. It ends at 33:02 with Landis saying, "Save all the time... that's executive thinking, you know."

    Landis talks about his dream of being a priest and his way of making that dream a reality.


    1. Write MENTAL ILLNESS on a board or chart paper at the front of the class. Instruct students to take sections of a sticky pad (or a whole pad) and write one of their associations (a perception, a belief, a term or something similar) with mental illness on each sheet. Once the students have finished, have them post their sheets in a designated spot in the classroom.

    2. Have student pairs review the various associations and begin grouping them, moving the sticky notes into categories they name (writing the category names on sticky notes as well) based on the associations. For example, there may be statements that say "can't work" or "can't hold a job," so they might group those together under the category of employment. Or, some statements might say "commit crimes" or "don't know right from wrong." These might fall under the category of behavior or responsibility. One category should be types of mental illness (if students do not come up with this category on their own, you might create the category and ask students to come up with associations).

    3. Students will spend some time reorganizing the sticky notes, moving them among categories. Give them about 10 minutes (or more if time is not limited). Once time is up, discuss the categories with students. At least some categories and notes are likely to offer myths, stereotypes, stigma-based ideas and other concepts that do not place mental illness in a favorable light.

    4. As students review the statements, ask them to reflect on what they indicate about people's perception of mental illness. Probe with them the common sentiments that seem to exist among them (it is likely that there is some overall negative or stereotyped perceptions) and where they think those perceptions originate (media, books, peers, real-life experience).

    5. Explain that they will have the opportunity to revisit these views as they learn about art forger Mark Landis. Provide some background on Landis and the film.

    6. Distribute the Viewing Chart and review with students. Tell students that as they watch the following clips, they should be on the lookout for items that fit the categories listed on the chart and jot down observations in the appropriate spots as they observe them in the segments. Show all the clips, in order.

    7. Ask students what their take is on Mark Landis and how his mental illness figures into his life. Invite students to flesh out their observations using the Viewing Chart (have them discuss by category). For example, under Coping, students describe how Landis negotiates his mental illness; under Support, students describe how he works with his caseworker.

    8. Briefly probe with students the concept of mental illness and moral responsibility. Note that Mark Landis forges art, but does not profit from his forgeries and is therefore not committing an actual crime. In this case, does Landis's mental illness make him less culpable of his forgery because it serves as a coping mechanism that relies on his artistic talent? Are his actions understandable? Are they excusable?

    9. OPTIONAL (but recommended): If time permits, divide students into pairs. Have them read "Successful and Schizophrenic"

    Then have them process what they read using the Think-Pair-Share approach

    10. Invite students to revisit their earlier statements. Based on how Landis negotiates the world and his mental illness (and based on The New York Times piece, if they have read it), how have they changed some or all of their views of mental illness, particularly with regard to competency, functioning in the world, awareness and similar aspects? It might be helpful to identify a range of mental illnesses, including depression, to point out that even illnesses that pose great challenges can be manageable and people with them can live healthy lives with the right support and treatment. Given that, ask students if a person living with mental illness that is well managed is truly different from someone who doesn't have a mental illness.

    11. Ask students how they would debunk mental illness "myths" among their peers or in the school community to create awareness of and reduce the stigma associated with those who live with a mental illness.


    Students can build out their ideas presented in step 10 to plan or design an awareness tool that dispels myths and discusses the "truisms" of mental health (for example, that symptoms can be managed and people can live healthy lives).


    1. Forgery: Passion or Crime? Or Maybe Art of its Own Kind?
    Art forgery has been around for a long time. Many art forgers are even viewed as artists. There are some interesting theories about why people pursue this "criminal" passion. Students can work in small groups or teams to explore the thinking and practice of forgers to determine what drives their passion and vision and whether forgery itself is a legitimate form of art. To jumpstart thinking:

    2. Determining Authenticity
    So, how does a museum figure out whether it has a forgery? And how do forgeries slip by the experts? Students examine the steps, procedures, policies and equipment used to determine whether a piece of art purchased by a museum is a forgery (and if so, what can be done about it). Based on readings and any additional research, students identify gaps in the approach to detecting forgery, especially when the forger is a clever and skilled artist.

    3. Managing Mental IllnessMany types of mental illness are manageable, meaning that with support and medication, people suffering from them can live relatively healthy lives. It can, however, be challenging for people with mental illness to stay on top of the things they need to manage their mental illness. Students examine what is involved in managing a mental illness and discuss what individuals need to stay on track. (Students may want to invite mental health speakers to their class to learn more.)

    4. Finding Your Talent
    In the film, Landis notes that everyone has a talent; it's just a matter of finding and then pursuing it. Often a talent can also serve as a tool for interacting and coping with the world. Students can explore what they see as their talents and then create digital stories to explain their talents and how they affect their lives. A good tutorial on digital storytelling can be found here:

    (please also refer to varied links in each of the extension tasks)

    Bipolar Lives: "Success over Stigma: Thriving Professionals with Bipolar Disorder" -

    Intent to Deceive: "Mark Landis: Mysterious Donor" -

    Mark Landis Original -

    KERA News: "Erasing The Stigma: One Dallas Man's Success Story Living With Mental Illness" -

    Network: "Mental Illness or Moral Illness?" -

    The New Yorker: "The Giveaway" -

    Open the Doors -


    Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (

    SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

    SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

    SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

    SL.11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

    RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

    RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

    RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


    Michele Israel owns Educational Writing & Consulting (, where she works with large and small educational, nonprofit and media organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans more than 25 years of successful experience developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals and assisting in organizational and program development. Her long list of clients includes Tiffany & Co., Frost Valley YMCA, Teaching Tolerance, the Public Broadcasting Service, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, WETA Public Television, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and the Harm Reduction Coalition.