Art and the Migration of Ideas

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Memorial Day will soon be here, marking the beginning of summer and the end of another school year. Memorial Day, of course, was created to remember the sacrifices soldiers have made on behalf of America. It seems fitting then, that we take a moment to reflect on our fifth grade curriculum in which students take a tour of American Art. Art that reflects what it means to be of a country with unique sensibilities.  Art that looks at a nation that is constantly changing, reinventing, growing. Perhaps no artist in our fifth grade program showcased the vitality and diversity of the American Experience as well as Jacob Lawrence.

In two major exhibits on display right now, one at MOMA in New York (through September 7), and the other at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford (through August 3), one can see the mastery and growth of Lawrence as an artist as well as a narrative thread that runs throughout his oeuvre. This thread tells stories of the vast cultural exchanges that happened as African-Americans moved from the rural south to the urban north beginning in the early part of the 20th century. That “migration,” specifically being celebrated in MOMA’s display of all 60 of the works in Lawrence’s Migration Series, led to the Harlem Renaissance and a collision of cultures that helped our cities become vibrant centers of the arts.

In Art in Action’s lesson, students see and discuss The Studio, a vibrant interior scene which depicts being a painter in both the private sphere (as seen in the cozy, cluttered and colorful attic studio) and the public (a densely packed cityscape through the window). The students look at the formal elements of the work that give it its energy (one-point perspective, converging lines) and then, using colored pencils, create their own colorful interiors of a dream bedroom or space using some of Lawrence’s techniques.

I like to think that Art in Action students get a sense of “migration” in their journey through the program. They see how cultures merge ideas across time and distance. They understand that place provides perspective but also that you bring your own perspective with you wherever you go. I believe that we help students understand the impact they can have on their own community and culture as they continue to grow and develop. And it is that impact that will ultimately help our nation continue to evolve.

If you are interested in learning more about our Jacob Lawrence lesson, or any of the other 107 units offered in our program, we’d love to speak with you.  Contact sales@artinaction.org.


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