What is American? (continued)

Explore what it means to be American

a.  Divide students into small groups and ask each group to pick one of the images in this activity. Ask groups to discuss and present how the artist has represented America at a particular moment in time. Students can consider:

What was happening in the United States at the time when the artist made his or her work?

How might this work relate to social, political, or cultural issues of the time period?

What does this work communicate about the artist’s experiences of America? 

b.  With your students, discuss what it means to them to be American.

In what ways do your students consider themselves American? Or not American?

How do they express their “American-ness?”

 What do students record, document, or share about their America?

How do they choose to represent their world and their lives?

What media do they use? Words? Photographs? Audio? Video?

Where do they share their ideas and observations? Smartphone? Social media? Blog? Journal? Sketching?

What politically and socially-minded content do they look for on other people’s social media feeds? What grabs their attention?

What is their collective view of America?




Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939. Oil on canvas, overall: 70 1/4 × 42 3/16 in. (178.4 × 107.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase 42.15

A painting of people standing behind two open caskets.

Ben Shahn, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, (1931–1932). Tempera and gouache on canvas mounted on composition board, 84 × 48in. (213.4 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Edith and Milton Lowenthal in memory of Juliana Force 49.22 Art © Estate of Ben Shahn, Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Two people holding signs that say "Register now for freedom now" and "Register to vote"

Danny Lyon, Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama, October 7, 1963. Gelatin silver print. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee 95.6. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

NY Times article clipping of Ground Zero.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-), Ground Zero, 2003. Collage on paper (newsprint), Sheet (Irregular): 11 9/16 × 13 1/2 in. (29.4 × 34.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of an anonymous donor 2003.269 © artist or artist’s estate



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