Parents and Educators Guide

Lesson: What can we learn about artists, their times, and culture through art?


With this lesson, students will:


  1. Two weeks prior to the art activity, distribute a letter to parents that informs them of the upcoming lesson regarding cultural expression in art. In this letter, ask parents to spend some time with their child to discuss their family heritage, important family events, and ongoing traditions. Suggest questions to prompt conversation between student and family members.
  2. Discuss and define the word "culture" with your class. Talk about what they learned from their families about their backgrounds. What events or holidays are important to them? What kinds of work do they do? What do they do for fun? What kinds of foods do they eat? What languages do they speak? What pets do they keep?
  3. Have students create a work of art (painting, sculpture, photo, etc.) that represents a personal or family experience. As examples of art that reveals culture, show students Luis Jimenez's "Vaquero," Awa Tsireh's "Ram and Antelope," and Nam June Paik's "Electronic Superhighway." (See Links to Learning Elements for access to "culture" galleries in Meet Me at Midnight. There you can learn about these artworks and the cultures they illuminate.) Portraiture is another art genre that deals with family—and sometimes national history.

For their own artwork, students might choose to illustrate a memorable event, such as a holiday or family reunion, for example. Perhaps their family comes from a farming background. If so, they might want to depict a crop, barn, or farm product. Students can create art individually or in pairs or teams. If the art is created by pairs or groups, each student's family traditions or culture should be represented.

  1. Students should write a description of their artwork and how it illustrates an aspect of their heritage, culture, or family life.
  2. As a culminating activity, display student projects. If multimedia presentation is an option, try displaying completed works in an online gallery format, so that students and parents can view all of the presentations as though they were in an art museum. Otherwise, make your classroom or bulletin board a "virtual gallery."

Finally, discuss the projects in class. What experiences or traditions did each student highlight? Why do they consider that aspect of their culture important? How did they choose to show that idea in art?