The Harlem Renaissance

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For one module, to coincide with African American History’s curriculum, we studied the art of the Harlem Renaissance. The first artist we looked at was Aaron Douglas. We studied his paintings and focused on the key vocabulary that is important when looking at his work: silhouette, skylines, and symbolism. The students were then challenged to paint a Philadelphia skyline, similar to how Aaron Douglas would have painted the New York skyline. They would paint the skylines as silhouettes and then add symbolism the same way that Aaron Douglas would have included symbolism about African American daily life in his paintings. Back in the Harlem Renaissance things were different for African Americans so my students were asked to think about things in their everyday life that they could use symbols to represent. These paintings came out very nice.

Next we looked at Romare Bearden who was not a Harlem Renaissance artist, but an artist who had grown up and experienced the Harlem Renaissance. We looked at his collages and students were challenged to make collages of their own neighborhoods. They had to focus on creating their own people out of many pictures of people, just like Romare Bearden, and try to represent their neighborhood using symbolism, just like in our Aaron Douglas projects.

Our Final project was a combination of everything we had learned over the course of the module. Students could pick paint or collage and they could take themes from both artists. In order to turn in final products my students had to do presentations of their own work. They told us about their techniques, their symbolism, and themes, and finally answered questions about their work of art from their fellow students. This was by far one of the most challenging aspects of their assignment, but I was very very pleased at the high level of respect and kindness I saw during these presentations. I cannot wait to teach this curriculum again.

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