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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 are 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, Early Sunday Morning, 1930.
Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939.
Duane Hanson, Woman with Dog, 1977.
Chuck Close, Phil, 1969.
George Segal, Walk, Don’t Walk, 1976.
John Sloan, Backyards, Greenwich Village, 1914.
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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. 

Edward Hopper, New York Interior, c. 1921.
Kenny Scharf, When the Worlds Collide, 1984.
George Bellows, Dempsey and Firpo, 1924.
Edward Kienholz, The Wait, 1964–65.
Edward Hopper, Night Shadows, 1921.
Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914–15.
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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, Object with Red Discs, 1931.
David Hammons, Untitled, 1992.
Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds v2k3, 2003 (installation view, Synthetic, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2009).
Eva Hesse, No title, 1970.
Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1961, 1961.
Lynda Benglis, Contraband, 1969.
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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.

Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907.
David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (One day this kid . . .), 1990.
Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait, 1993.
George Tooker, The Subway, 1950.
Glenn Ligon, Untitled (I Do Not Always Feel Colored), 1990.
Jane Hammond,Fallen, 2004–ongoing
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