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School Programs Themes

School Programs Mission

Artists' ideas are at the center of Whitney School Programs. We ask K-12 students to think like artists and challenge them to be critical observers of their world. Through the careful examination of artists' ideas, materials, and processes, students consider the multi-faceted role that artists play in American culture and society.

School Programs uses a thematic-based approach to teaching in the galleries. Our themes are meant to create more thoughtful connections between K-12 classroom learning and the art on view. Below you will find short descriptions of our themes with works from the Whitney's collection that represent those ideas. Please note that not all of these works may be on view at the Museum.

Artist as Observer (K–12)

How do artists represent the world around them? How do they choose to show people and places? This theme can address topics including New York City, community, landscape, and portraiture. This is a great thematic tour for first-time visitors as it incorporates visual literacy skills and introduces students to multiple ways of looking at and talking about art.

Edward Hopper, Self Portrait, 1925–30. Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 × 20 5/8 in. (64.1 x  52.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest  70.1165  © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Robert Henri, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916. Oil on canvas, 50 × 72 in. (127 × 182.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Flora Whitney Miller  86.70.3© Estate of Robert Henri
Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927. Oil on fiberboard, 35 3/4 × 30 in. (90.8 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney  31.172
Charles Henry Alston, The Family, 1955. Oil on canvas, 48 3/16 × 35 3/16 in. (122.4 × 91 cm). Purchase with funds from the Artists and Students Assistance Fund 55.47

Artist as Storyteller (K–12)

How do artists tell a story? What is their point of view? This theme addresses ELA concepts such as narrative, tone, character, and setting and is recommended for literacy and writing classes. 

Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, c. 1926–36. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 in. (152.4 × 127 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father  50.17© 2010 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Duane Hanson, Woman with Dog, 1977. Cast polyvinyl polychromed in synthetic polymer, with cloth and hair, 46 × 48 × 51 1/2 in. (116.8 × 121.9 × 130.8 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Frances and Sydney Lewis  78.6Art © Estate of Duane Hanson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
George Bellows, Dempsey and Firpo, 1924. Oil on canvas, 51 × 63 1/4 in. (129.5 × 160.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney  31.95
Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936. Oil on canvas, 36 × 30 in. (91.4 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Calvin Klein  94.171  © 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Artist as Experimenter (K–12)

How do artists push boundaries and explore new concepts? This theme examines how artists experiment with materials, processes, and ideas. Younger students may look at how artists use formal elements such as line, shape, color, texture, and composition, or how they transform everyday objects. Older students may consider more conceptual questions, such as "What makes this art?" and "Why is this in a museum?" 

Alexander Calder, Varèse, c. 1930. Wire, 13 3/4 × 11 5/8 × 14 1/2 in. (34.9 × 29.5 × 36.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Mrs. Louise Varèse in honor of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney  80.25  © 2009 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Charles Ray, Puzzle Bottle, 1995. Glass, painted wood, and cork, 13 3/8 × 3 3/4 × 3 3/4 in. (34 × 9.5 × 9.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and Barbara and Eugene Schwartz  95.85a-b
Andrea Zittel, A to Z 1993 Living Unit, 1993. Steel, wood, mirror, four hangers, sweater, towel, soap container, calendar, filing cabinet, pencils, two notepads, folding seat, folding bed, four glass jars, two ceramics cups, two glasses, two ceramic bowls, digital clock, electric lighting system, hot plate, pot, and toaster oven, (open): 62 3/8 × 131 1/8 × 76 1/8 in. (158.4 × 333.1 × 193.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Jay Jopling 2014.293a-e © Andrea Zittel
Carmen Herrera, Green and Orange, 1958. Acrylic on canvas, 60 × 72 in. (152.4 × 182.9 cm). Collection of Paul and Trudy Cejas © Carmen Herrera; photograph by Chi Lam

Artist as Critic (6–12)

How do artists respond to the social, political, and cultural climate of their time? What does their work tell us about American life and culture? How can art serve as a catalyst for change? Students examine how artists respond to the topics that shape history, politics, and contemporary culture. This thematic tour can address subjects such as current events, war, gender, race, politics, and activism.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hollywood Africans, 1983. Synthetic polymer and mixed media on canvas, 84 × 84 in. (213.4 × 213.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Douglas S. Cramer  84.23  © 2009 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Josh Kline, Cost of Living (Aleyda), 2014. 3D-printed sculptures in plaster, inkjet ink and cyanoacrylate, with janitor cart and LED lights, overall: 44 1/2 × 36 × 19 ½ in. (113 × 91.4 × 49.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Promised gift of Laura Rapp and Jay Smith P.2014.118a-o  © Josh Kline
Leidy Churchman, Tallest Residential Tower in the Western Hemisphere, 2015. Oil on linen, 72 × 60 1/8 in. (182.9 × 152.7 cm). Gift of Avo Samuelian and Hector Manuel Gonzalez 2015. 164
Byron Kim, Synecdoche [left to right, top to bottom: Annette Lemieux, Brice Marden, Byron Kim, Chuck Close, Donald Moffett, Donald Baechler, Ed Baynard, Elizabeth Murray, Fred Tomaselli, Fred Wilson, Glenn Ligon, James Casebere, Jane Hammond, Janine Antoni, Jon Kessler, Joyce Kozloff, Kiki Smith, Lesley Dill, Lois Dodd, Lorna Simpson, Lynne Yamamoto, Mel Bochner, Mel Chin, Merry Alpern, Lee Mingwei, Natvar Bhavsar, Nayland Blake, Oliver Herring, Philip Pearlstein, Polly Apfelbaum, Robert Gober, Robert Rahway Zakanitch, Sam Messer, Sandy Scolnik, Suzanne McClelland, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Vija Celmins, Vito Acconci, William Wegman, from the project Synecdoche, 1999–2001. Oil and wax on wood, Dimensions variable, each panel 10 × 8 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation 99.2.3a–nn © Byron Kim