The Artist and His Mother

a. Ask your students to look closely at Arshile Gorky’s painting, The Artist and His Mother, 1926-c.1936. Let them know that the painting is based on a photograph of Gorky and his mother from 1912. Gorky’s mother starved to death in 1919, during the Armenian genocide, and the next year, Gorky arrived in the United States as a refugee. The photograph was the only image of his mother that Gorky had, and therefore it was a treasured memory. The photograph can be found here: Ask students to compare the painting with the photograph. What similarities and differences do they notice?

b. Ask your students to think of someone in their family or a close friend (who is not in the same class). Have them describe their features and clothing, a few objects, and a place they associate with that person. Have students make a drawing from memory or write a description of the person they selected.

c. Ask students to present and discuss their drawings or written descriptions. What did they find easy to remember? What was difficult to recall? Why? How did students choose to represent the person?

Young boy standing next to a seated woman

Arshile Gorky (c. 1902-1948), The Artist and His Mother, 1926-c.1936. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 1/4in. (152.4 × 127.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father 50.17 © 2017 The Arshile Gorky Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY