Sunday, November 22, 2015

Showing STEAM with Frank Stella...

Celebrating a lifetime of work
with a little bit of STEAM

Frank Stella, 1964, photo by Ugo Mulas
It is an exciting time to visit the Whitney Museum in New York City.  To begin with, the Whitney opened its doors in a new location and an amazing new building this year, bringing along the lifelong, trans-formative work of Frank Stella.

In my art class, I found this the perfect opportunity to inspire my students with Stella's early work, emphasizing a steady hand and protractors.

Along with my student teacher, we developed a lesson that challenged the students to transform a familiar analytical tool in their artwork, referencing the ideas and work of Stella.

The Venn Diagram

Frank StellaFiruzabad, 1970
I use Venn diagrams a lot in art class as tools for my students to organize their thoughts when analyzing artworks throughout our learning process.  These simple interconnected circles became the center of attention but in a different way.  

Along with the Retrospective of Frank Stella, November 19th, 2015 marked an incredible day for Arts Education:

In the midst of the biggest shakeup of federal education law in over a decade, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici 
(D-OR) successfully added an amendment today to the rewrite of the nation’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) legislation that will integrate the arts into STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math).
Art is CORE:)

"Frank Stella's 'Harran II', 1967". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia 
Art is a CORE subject in developing our young peoples into creative and innovative problem solvers, bringing new perspectives, ideas and solutions to, what used to be, the fundamentals of education.

It is about time.

This art unit, not only studied the work of Frank Stella, but demonstrated to my students that fine artists, like architects, designers and....doctors, all use tools to achieve the best outcome and precision, steady hands and accuracy are important attributes.

The instructional sequence was developed within a three week time frame for 4th grade (seeing the students once a week for one hour).

DAY ONE:  Investigate Frank Stella's "Protractor Series", focusing on the elements, techniques and attributes that made Stella's work special. (Shape, color, line, overlapping, precision, big)  Allow the students a little bit of "play time".  Although the students may be familiar with using a protractor, anticipate their challenges:  moving the protractor, making lines to dark, moving the protractor too little...  This time, also, helps the students evaluate their own skills and what to do to achieve their best outcome.

DAY TWO:  Designate the second day for a quick review of the day before.  My students were given a homework assignment, in which they were to compare and contrast Firuzabad with a work by Kandinsky using a Venn Diagram.  After a group discussion, I demonstrated a process of transforming the Venn Diagram into something extraordinary.  I emphasized the process of overlapping to be simple and visually to appear consistent.  Erasing the overlapping shapes demonstrated to be a consistent challenge, but students found their way to working through the problem.

DAY THREE:  The last day focused on choosing a color scheme and piecing together our drawings with color.  I took the time to demonstrate using our color choices to complete our designs, emphasizing overlapping by deciding whether colors will "go over, or under" each other.  There was sense of hesitation at this stage in the project because the students expressed their confusion amongst all the intersecting lines., really, all came together for them when they were filling in their colors.

The results were fantastic!  Most importantly, the students felt proud about what they accomplished.

These are just a couple of examples.  More of my students work (and works in progress) can be seen at

The resources and complete lesson is available HERE :)

xoxo, Smock you.