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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, 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
Fairfield Porter, The Screen Porch, 1964. Oil on canvas, 79 1/2 × 79 1/2 in. (201.9 x  201.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Lawrence H. Bloedel Bequest  77.1.41© Estate of Fairfield Porter
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

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
Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2008. Chromogenic print, 63 3/4 × 57 1/4 in. (161.9 × 145.4 cm). Edition no. 5/6. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee  2009.46
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
Laurie Simmons, Walking Camera II (Jimmy the Camera), 1987. Gelatin silver print, 82 13/16 × 47 1/2 in. (210.3 × 120.7 cm). Edition of 5. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee  94.107© 1987 Laurie Simmons

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.

Annette Lemieux, Left Right Left Right, 1995. Thirty photolithographs and thirty pine poles, dimensions variable. Edition of 3. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Print Committee  2001.176
Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, 1995 (installation view, Full House: Views of the Whitney’s Collection at 75, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2006). Synthetic polymer, latex, foam core, fiberglass, and wood, 57 3/4 × 192 3/16 × 96 1/8 in. (146.7 × 488.2 × 244.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee  96.50
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
Byron Kim, Synecdoche [Whitney artists], 1999–2001. Oil and wax on panel: number of panels variable, 10 × 8 in. each. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation  99.2.3a-nn