- Curriculum: Art Criticism, Computer, Social Studies
- Age/Grade: Above 14, Elementary 3, Middle School
- Subject: Analysis and Theory, Drawing, Multi-Media, Writing
- Materials: Mixed Media, Pencils
- Institution: McNary Elementary School
- Location: McNary, Arizona
- Duration: 3 Classes
A joint effort between the University of Arizona's Education division and a local public school summer program, this lesson explores how some Apache students responded to Keith Haring's art using their computers as art-making tools.
Apache children were responding to reproductions of Keith Haring's paintings. Haring's work is simple yet provocative for children, so he seemed an appropriate artist to study in our summer school computer art program. We had three major goals related to state and national standards:
To use art as inquiry to learn about a famous artist.
To understand art in context by examining artworks from the twentieth century.
To understand art as a form of communication by engaging in art criticism.
Students know that the visual arts have both a history and specific relationships to various cultures.
Engaging in Art Criticism
We asked students to choose their favorite Haring paintings and write down reasons for their choices, encouraging them to describe the colors, lines, or patterns in their reasons. Some students gave such reasons as bright and warm colors, dancing shapes, squiggle lines, and crazy patterns. They described the images with such phrases as "a spider climbing," "a half person and half fish," or "monkeys dancing." All students classified the artworks as imaginary. One student used the term cartoon-like. None of the students, however, considered Haring's images to be beautiful. A sixth grader described one of Haring's paintings as a "sitting person with hands up" and another saw the work as "a man looking scared who is trying to escape."
Using Art as Inquiry
We explored information about Haring on the Internet. Students were surprised to find his picture as a young boy, to learn that his father made cartoons, and to read that Haring made stories and cartoons ever since he was young. In one of Haring's artist statements, he reflected: "The reality of art begins in the eyes of the beholder, through imagination, invention, and confrontation. To find hope and beauty in the midst of oppression and struggle is certainly a challenge but also carries the greatest rewards!"
Considering Art in Context
Students learned that Haring was a twentieth-century Pop Artist, which means that he used popular subjects (such as cartoon characters) and commonly known symbols (hearts, dogs, human figures). After moving to New York City, he was influenced by its bright colors, bold advertisements, and commercial media. Times Square once featured his radiant child symbol on a dynamic neon billboard: a 30-second animated drawing that repeated every 20 minutes, once a month.
Art as a Form of Communication
Students learned that Keith Haring was determined to bring art to the people. He posted his graffiti drawings as street pieces and on subway panels. He later sold his drawings on printed T-shirts, posters, books, toy radios, and even an inflatable baby at the Pop Shop, a store in Manhattan that he started in 1986. At the end of his life, Haring's ideas and themes became more serious. He started to communicate social statements about love and against drugs, and to memorialize those who died of AIDS. His works advertised serious messages such as "Crack is Wack."
Experimenting with Computer Tools
Since Haring's images were very simple and abstract, we asked students to make abstract computer paintings imitating Haring. Each student chose a reproduction and tried to recreate the design in his or her own way. The simpler the design, the easier the task, and the more confidence gained. Students were beginners in learning the computer-drawing program. They used examples as a model to learn how to use the various tools and effects. Most students started by outlining simple forms and filling in paint colors. Some students repeated concentric circles (circle tool) and boxes (rectangle tool) and filled them in with solid color. Most seemed to imitate his dancing people and his format. Clearly, students were experimenting with computer tools and new abstract forms in this imaginative assignment.
Art Historical Comparisons
We discovered how Haring learned to paint by finding similarities in his own work with other artists. For example, he realized that Jean Dubuffet's images were similar to hislittle, abstract, interconnected shapes. We asked students to compare their work to Haring's, so that they could discern the differences. They noticed that their lines were more curvy, and their colors more simple. The comparisons exercise acted as an in-process redirection for further work. Overall, the lesson successfully addressed our goals in meeting state and national standards.
Mary Stokrocki is a professor of art education at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Marcia Buckpitt is a teacher at McNary Elementary School on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in McNary, Arizona.
This project was first published in School Arts Magazine.
Photo credits: Chelsea Keefer.