Influenced by the art of Dyani White Hawk

Grade Level: Fourth grade and older
Time Required: Two 55–minute class periods
Lesson Overview: Students will be able to explore and create an abstract artwork by drawing and manipulating materials. This lesson was presented by Dyani White Hawk to fourth–grade students. You can adapt the ideas to suit your classroom needs.

Lesson Objectives
Students will be able to combine materials and drawing to create unique abstract artworks influenced by Dyani White Hawk’s art.Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of abstract art.

    • Drawing paper
    • Pencils
    • Variety of materials(depending on what you have available) such as toothpicks, straws, cards, tape, ribbon, buttons, and colored paper
    • Images (preferably laminated) of abstract art by White Hawk and others (your choice)
    • Examples of abstraction by artists such as: Joan Mitchell, Brenda Mallory, Julie Mehretu, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko, Odili Donald Odita, Agnes Martin, Emmi Whitehorse, Hisaho Domoto, Sean Scully, Frank Stella, Alma Thompson, Banduk Marika, Annie Mae Young

Visit White Hawk’s website for information about the artist and images of her work in a variety of media: http://www.dyaniwhitehawk.com/

For additional information, see the entry about Dyani White Hawk’s painting, Untitled (Quiet Strength I), 2016, on pages 42–44 (essay by Marlena Myles).

Visual Art Standards
Benchmark: Describe how the principles of visual art such as repetition, pattern, emphasis, contrast, and balance are used in the creation, presentation, or response to visual artworks.
Benchmark: Describe the personal, social, cultural, or historical contexts that influence the creation of visual artworks, including the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.

Benchmark: Create original two- and three-dimensional artworks to express specific artistic ideas.

Benchmark: Create original two- and three-dimensional artworks in a variety of artistic contexts.

Benchmark: Compare and contrast the connections among visual artworks, their purposes, and their personal, social, cultural, and historical contexts, including the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.

Benchmark: Analyze how the elements of visual art—including color, line, shape, value, form, texture, and space—and principles such as repetition, pattern, emphasis, contrast, and balance are combined to communicate meaning in the creation of, presenta- tion of, or response to visual artworks.

Benchmark: Evaluate how the principles of visual art, such as repetition, pattern, emphasis, contrast, and balance, are used in the creation of, presentation of, or response to visual artworks.

Benchmark: Analyze how visual artworks influence and are influenced by personal, social, cultural, or historical contexts, including the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.

Benchmark: Create a single, complex artwork or multiple artworks to express ideas.

Lesson Steps
Begin the lesson with an introduction to the artist, Dyani White Hawk, who designed this lesson for fourth graders in Minneapolis. She taught students that her Lakȟóta and European ancestry, as well as her growing up in an urban environment, have influenced her artwork. She uses these life experiences and

her Lakȟóta culture to inspire her modern abstract paintings. She draws on her imagination to represent these ideas in an abstract way. She often incorporates traditional Lakȟóta art materials into her work, such as beads and porcupine quills.Explain that together you will explore the idea of abstract art and then create unique abstract artworks. Check in by asking what they think about when you say the word “abstract.”

1. Symbols and Ideas
Begin by drawing a wavy line where everyone can see it.

Invite students to share what the lines look like to them. Ask students to explain their responses so that everyone hears their thought process.

Following discussion, explain that the lines and circles made the students think about something specific because we share a common visual language.

Next, think about something with lots of lines and circles. Write the word Dog. Ask: What do these lines represent? (Discuss that lines make letters and letters make words.) Ask several students, What does the dog in your head look like? They are all different. Follow up. For example, So, do you think the dogs in your imagination are all doing the same things? Or are they the same size? They are all probably different—in color, breed, size, personality. But we all have decided these marks mean Dog, and symbols are one way to represent something.

Invite students to think about the idea that you could also draw a picture of a big fluffy-eared dog, and that these marks are another way to represent Dog. We can use images to represent ideas.

2. Feelings
Invite students to close their eyes and ears. Draw an image like this one. Use fast, big, erratic motions and gestures.

Then, invite students to open their eyes. Ask students: What do you see or feel? What does this express to you? A thing? An emotion? A feeling? Discuss words it brings to mind.

Invite students to close their eyes and ears again until you have drawn three line-like scribbles. Use slow, gentle, calm motions and gestures.

Ask: How do these marks make you feel? Share an emotion or feeling.

It is hard to say in words exactly what we look at when we look at these marks. Still, they evoke emotions and feelings in us. No matter what language you speak, you can feel feelings. So even if you and another student do not speak the same language, you could look at artwork by each other and feel some of the same things.

Artwork is a form a communication. It is a way to express something from one person to the next about our life experience.

Self Reflection, 2001,
oil on canvas
© Dyani White Hawk

3. Abstraction
Show the image of Dyani White Hawk’s Self Reflection without telling students the title or anything about it.

• Ask students: Does anyone know 100% what this thing is? Discuss responses.

• Ask: How does it make you feel?

Discuss that no one (or one person, if this happens) knew what this was, but you all knew how it made you feel. That’s abstract art.

Explain that White Hawk was thinking about a moccasin when she made this shape. Viewers are not necessarily supposed to know that. She did not draw it in a way they could precisely identify it. But what she wanted to do was convey a feeling—one of quiet, calm, isolation.

The painting is titled Self Reflection. For White Hawk, it was about a quiet moment spent by herself. Sometimes that time felt lonely. Sometimes it felt sad. But it was a time when she was coming to peace with herself. She was learning to love who she is. And that time was supposed to feel very quiet and isolated.

Discuss how abstraction does not have to represent something like a dog; rather, it can convey universal emotions understood by everybody. The beauty of abstraction is it doesn’t have to offer anyone answer. Depending on who you are, you might feel different things.

Search White Hawk’s website for additional examples of her artwork to show your students. Explore those and then share examples of other abstract art to demonstrate the infinite ways to make abstract art. There are no rules.

White Hawk is a painter who also incorporates other materials in her paintings. Sometimes she use beads, porcupine quills, or paper. Other times, she includes sequins, fabrics, and assorted items. She uses these materials to convey an idea or a feeling, instead of representing something we can name.

When you look at her work, notice and think about the materials, sizes, and designs. If possible, show a painting with beadwork that also contains an abstraction of a form, like a moccasin.

4. Brainstorming
Before inviting students to create abstract artworks, give them time to think about abstraction and explore it with pencil on paper. Encourage them to think about their feelings.Helpful prompts for students: How would they express these feelings with lines and forms on their paper?

Also, have them think about ideas: How might they use abstract forms and lines to show this idea? What kinds of different marks can you make with your pencil? What if you made a mark over and over again? What if you filled the whole page? Think about how different lines—diagonal, vertical, horizontal, zigzag, curved— might help express your feelings and idea. What colors might you use to also express these feelings and ideas? What kinds of materials might you add to an abstraction to help communicate the message?

5. Making Abstract Art
Review the key ideas introduced above. Then remind your students how abstract artists like White Hawk use line, color, and shape to create an artwork that is open to interpretation and meaning. Remind students that there are no rules for abstract art. This is the fun part—no rules!Provide students with color pencils, paper, glue, and a variety of materials (e.g., toothpicks, straws, cards, ribbons, buttons, rubber bands, dot stickers, colored paper) to manipulate as part of their abstractions.

Have them think about what ideas or feelings they want to express. Encourage them to think about how they might change existing items (e.g., cut a playing card or cut straws into small pieces) or draw, glue, fold, build, and color to create an abstract artwork. Encourage them to experiment, explore, and try varying approaches to making their work. Fill the page, try different techniques, and have fun.