Helping Middle Schoolers Understand Abstract Art and the Contributions of African American Painters

School of Art Design and Art History

SUMMARY: Art Education students in the School of Art, Design and Art History created a multimedia experience for local middle school students to help them understand abstract art and the importance of an exhibition like "Exuberance: Dialogues in African American Abstract Painting."

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When JMU Art Education faculty wanted to increase community involvement in the current art exhibition on campus, they reached out to local middle schools Thomas Harrison and Skyline. Soon after, nearly 350 7th-and 8th-graders had a hands-on, multimedia experience that taught them not only how to understand abstract art, but also the importance of an exhibition likeExuberance: Dialogues in African American Painting at Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art.

Over three days, students in the Art Education licensure program at the School of Art, Design and Art History brought middle schoolers into the gallery to show them some of the most influential abstract art from the past 70 years. To help with their understanding of abstract art, the Art Education students created the Exuberance Companion Booklet, a 28-page workbook filled with images of the exhibition works with provocative questions about them, like "What shapes do you see?, How is color used? and What processes do you think they used?" The booklet also points out the impact an artist's statement can have on a viewer's perception and offers prompts and writing space for students to begin thinking about they could create their own abstract art.

After the gallery visit, visitors went to a multimedia presentation about African American painters' significant contributions to painting and the fact that they have not been recognized or included in the art histories presented by white teachers and institutions.

Finally, visitors made their own abstract art inspired by the works in Exuberance, both individually and collaboratively.

Assistant Professor of Art Education Dr. Hannah Sions says that the experience not only expanded students' understanding of abstract art, but it also gave them a chance to see themselves in a gallery setting and as a university student. "It is so important for kids of different backgrounds to have the opportunity to see themselves in the fine art environment and as a JMU student." 

The Art Education Licensure program is available to all SADAH majors and develops certified K-12 art educators. Students complete their art major, the required professional education courses, three school practicum placements and two eight-week blocks of student teaching.

Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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