Art and the African American Experience Teacher Guides

Discover how to integrate African American art into your classroom

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's educational materials are free for your use. Teacher Guides are downloadable PDFs, listed with corresponding standards and grade levels for your convenience.

African American Artists: Education and Equity

How did African American artists respond to cultural and educational opportunities?

This portion of the Affirmation Today module explains the cultural impact of Supreme Court decisions on the African American community.

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Allan Rohan Crite, School's Out, 1936, oil on canvas

Primary Subject and Grade: Visual Arts 5–12, U.S. History 5–12.

Components: Historical context, images and image descriptions, student activity suggestions, bibliography.

Standards: Visual Arts K–12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines; K–12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures; K–12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter.

US History Era 7 The Emergence of Modern America (1890–1930); Era 8 The Great Depression and World War II (1929–1945), Era 9 Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s).

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African American Artists: Masking Matters

How did the Harlem Renaissance influence African American artists?

This portion of the Affirmation Today module explains the conscious attempt to express ancestral heritage and racial pride through art.

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Loïs Mailou Jones, Les Fétiches, 1938, oil on linen, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Primary Subject and Grade: Visual Arts 5–12, U.S. History 5–12

Secondary Subject and Grade: Language Arts 7–12, Music 7–12.

Components: Historical context, images and image descriptions, excerpts, student activity suggestions, bibliography.

Standards: Visual Arts K–12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines; K–12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures; K–12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter.

US History Era 7 The Emergence of Modern America (1890–1930); Era 8 The Great Depression and World War II (1929–1945)
Language Arts K–12.1 Reading for Perspective; K–12.2 Understanding the Human Experience; K–12.3 Evaluation Strategies; K–12.11 Participating in Society,

Music 7–12.8 Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts; 9–12.9 Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

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African American Artists: My People, Our People

How can art, music, and literature combine to provide a multifaceted view of the African American experience?

This portion of the Affirmation Today module explores the diverse experiences of and cultural connections among African Americans and how African Americans influenced and contributed to American Culture.

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Edmonia Lewis, Old Arrow Maker, modeled 1866, carved 1872, marble

Primary Subject and Grade: Visual Arts 5–12, U.S. History 5–12

Secondary Subject and Grade: Language Arts 7–12, Music 7–12.

Components: Historical context, images and image descriptions, excerpts, student activity suggestions, bibliography.

Standards: Visual Arts K–12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines; K–12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures; K–12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter.

US History Era 2 Colonization and Settlement (1585–1763); Era 4 Expansion and Reform (1801–1861); Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1860–1877); Era 7 The Emergence of Modern America (1890–1930),

Language Arts K–12.1 Reading for Perspective; K–12.2 Understanding the Human Experience; K–12.3 Evaluation Strategies; K–12.11 Participating in Society, 

Music 7–12.8 Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts; 9–12.9 Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

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African American Artists: Myth and Modern Society

How have contemporary African American artists incorporated classical mythology in their art?

This portion of the Affirmation Today module explores how myths transcend time and place and how mythology is used as commentary on experience.

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Alma Thomas, Elysian Fields, 1973, acrylic on canvas

Primary Subject and Grade: Visual Arts 5–12.

Secondary Subject and Grade: Language Arts 5–12.

Components: Historical context, images and image descriptions, excerpts, student activity suggestions, bibliography.

Standards: Visual Arts K–12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines; K–12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures; K–12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter.

Language Arts K–12.1 Reading for Perspective; K–12.2 Understanding the Human Experience; K–12.3 Evaluation Strategies; K–12.11 Participating in Society.

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Harlem Heroes

How do Carl Van Vechten's photographs illuminate leading literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance?

This teacher guide provides contextual information, key images, and discussion questions to accompany the exhibition Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten, featuring writers Nora Zeale Hurston and Langston Hughes.

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Carl Van Vechten, Richard Benson, W.E.B. DuBois, from the portfolio 'O, Write My Name': American Portraits, Harlem Heroes, 1936, printed 1983, photogravure

Primary Subject and Grade: 5-12 Social Studies, Language Arts, Visual Arts

Secondary Subject and Grade: Music 

Components: Teacher Guide, Looking Questions

Standards: This teaching resource supports these Common Core-based concepts:

  • Cite pieces of visual and textual evidence to support analysis and inferences drawn from the text.
  • Determine the central ideas of an artwork and how they are conveyed through particular details.
  • Determine the meaning of symbols as they are used in a visual text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings. Analyze the impact.
  • Analyze the structure an artist uses to organize a text, and how it fits into the overall structure and contributes to the development of the ideas.
  • Determine an artist’s point of view and explain how it is conveyed.
  • Compare and contrast a visual text to audio, video, or multimedia sources, analyzing each medium’s portrayal of the subject.
  • Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims presented, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not. Assess whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
  • Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

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