African American Art Teacher Resources

Discover how to integrate American art into your classroom

Teacher Guides

Teacher Guides are free, downloadable PDFs.

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 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.

U.S. 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 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.

U.S. 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 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.

U.S. 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 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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Bill Traylor: Perspective-Taking Within Historical Context

How can analysis of artworks created by Bill Traylor help students consider whose stories get told in history? How does our understanding of the past and the present change when we consider multiple perspectives?

This teaching resource prompts student inquiry into the artwork and life of Bill Traylor (ca. 1853-1949), a man born into slavery who lived his entire life in Alabama. The activities in this resource help students consider possible multiple readings of Traylor’s work and challenge students to question the perspectives and stories hidden within or missing from the telling of American history.

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Bill Traylor, Untitled (Dog Fight with Writing), ca. 1939-1940, opaque watercolor and pencil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Primary Subject and Grade: Social Studies 7-12, Visual Arts 7-12

Secondary Subject: Language Arts

Components: Teacher Guide, Looking Questions

Standards: U.S. History Content Standards Era 5 (The Civil War and Reconstruction) through Era 8 (The Great Depression and World War II). The resource also supports the following Historical Thinking Standards: Historical Comprehension, Historical Analysis, and Interpretation, Historical Research Capabilities.

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Videos

Mark Bradford on Amendment #8

Artist Mark Bradford creates abstract work that engages with questions of race, class, culture, and politics. Find out about why he gravitates towards paper as his primary material and what he thinks about having Amendment #8 in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Mickalene Thomas on Portrait of Mnonja

Artist Mickalene Thomas explains her inspiration for Portrait of Mnonja, the role that performance plays in her practice, and the connection between Portrait of Mnonja and Ambassador Susan Rice.

Nick Cave on Soundsuit

Artist Nick Cave discusses creating his first Soundsuit in 1992 in response to the Rodney King beating. He explains the ideas and materials that inspired him to make the Soundsuit in SAAM’s collection–one of approximately five hundred Soundsuits the artist has made over the years.

Kerry James Marshall on SOB, SOB

Artist Kerry James Marshall, creator of SOB, SOB, explains his commitment to making Black figures the central subjects of his paintings: "There are not enough paintings in museums anywhere, really, that have Black figures as the central subject.” 

Lava Thomas on Requiem for Charleston

Artist Lava Thomas discusses her materials and process–including tambourines, black lambskin, black acrylic disks, and pyrographic calligraphy–for making Requiem for Charleston, which honors the nine men and women murdered on June 17, 2015, inside the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mingering Mike on His Process and Inspirations

SAAM’s collection includes over 150 artworks made between 1969 and 1976 by a self–taught Washington, D.C. artist known only by his alter-ego, Mingering Mike. During his rare media appearances, the artist always wears a disguise in order to maintain his anonymity.

Soul Superstars, Album Covers, and American Art

In this episode of SAAM's award-winning web series Re:Frame, join host Melissa as she crisscrosses the Smithsonian to learn about artist Mingering Mike and the historical significance of the Howard Theatre.

More Resources

Explore the Civil Rights Movement through American Art

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Allan Rohan Crite, School's Out1936, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration, 1971.447.18

This interdisciplinary resource includes close-looking questions, related resources from across the Smithsonian, and artist biographies for more than two dozen African American artists:

Charles Henry Alston 
Rev. Henry Clay Anderson 
Cornelius M. Battey 
Romare Bearden 
Elizabeth Catlett 
Allan Rohan Crite 
Beauford Delaney 
Thornton Dial, Sr. 
David C. Driskell 
Roland L. Freeman 
Sam Gilliam 
Earlie Hudnall Jr.

William H. Johnson 
Barbara Jones-Hogu 
Jacob Lawrence 
Norman Lewis 
Robert McNeill 
Gordon Parks
Earle Richardson 
Augusta Savage 
Lorna Simpson 
Henry Ossawa Tanner 
James VanDerZee 
Charles White 
Ernest C. Withers 

The Struggle for Equality

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Charles White, The Children1950, ink and graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Julie Seitzman and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2009.13

Take a deep dive into Charles White’s The Children (1950) and Jacob Lawrence’s The Library (1960) on the education resource The American Experience in the Classroom.

Explore The Struggle for Equality

Civil Rights: Then and Now

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Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Tim Rollins, By Any Means Necessary (after Malcolm X)2008, matte acrylic and book pages on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.18, © 2008, Tim Rollin and K.O.S.

Look closely at By Any Means Necessary (after Malcolm X) (2008) by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. alongside SOB, SOB (2003) by Kerry James Marshall on the education resource The American Experience in the Classroom.

Explore Civil Rights: Then and Now