The “State of the Union” address is the President’s yearly vision for the nation, often overlooked in the traditional art classroom.
This year, integrate discussion of the important annual event into your art curriculum to teach students the importance of this constitutionally-mandated address and the ways of American government.
The following projects can be taught after students have watched the President’s address or completed before it in preparation of the event. Here are six art lesson ideas to incorporate discussion of American politics and the “State of the Union” address into your classroom:
1. Design a presidential seal – The U.S. Presidential Seal is a symbol for the official communication of the President. As students watch the “State of the Union” address, have them search for any forms of the seal shown anywhere nearby. In art class, students may study the seal, its imagery and symbolism – described here in Wikipedia – and design a new official symbol, which could represent today’s current president (as the official seal was originally created in 1960).
2. Create a political cartoon – This art lesson has it’s roots deep in American history, with one of the most famous and earliest examples of political cartoons seen in the “Join, or Die” cartoon first published in 1754 – seen here at Wikipedia . Show students examples of political cartoons, discuss their purpose, history and common imagery (such as donkeys and elephants to represent political parties), the art form of caricature, and discuss the definition and function of satire. Students then watch the “State of the Union” address and create a political cartoon based off of their impressions of the President’s speech.
3. Draw a portrait of the President – This art lesson can be customized to the grade and ability levels of your students and your materials of choice. Begin by discussing how artists have created official painted portraits of each of our American presidents, showing the artworks of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and Richard Nixon by Norman Rockwell . The art teacher can decide if students create a drawing of our current president while watching the “State of the Union” address or by choosing any president and working from a photo and grid, and whether students use charcoal, pencil, ink, pastel or paint.
4. Create an art history lesson based off of American government – There are many influential American artists that have created artwork inspired by politics, the presidency and our governmental system. Use the “State of the Union” address as a jumping-off point to discuss these important artworks. Take a look at Peter Max’s brightly colored painting of President Obama. Discuss Grant Wood’s folkore painting of George Washinton in “Parson Weems’ Fable,” and Emmanuel Leutze’s famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Share the story behind President FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech, discuss Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series of paintings. You could find artworks depicting our national wars, civil rights issues, space exploration and other important American cultural milestones.
5. Design a new White House or Capitol building – Many art teachers design art lessons that teach students about architecture. Before students watch the “State of the Union” address, introducearchitecture and show diagrams, blueprints, photographs and drawings of the Capitol building – where the President’s speech is delivered – and the White House. Discuss the history of these landmark buildings, and their many functions. Once students have learned about blueprint design, they will design the floor plan for a new, updated White House or Capitol. Click here to learn more about the U.S. Capitol.
6. Sculpt a commemorative statue – This 3-D art lesson will enable students to work with clay or other sculpture materials. Students can view examples of memorials and statues throughout the U.S. that commemorate important people, ideas or events in our nation’s history. Check out the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. As students watch the “State of the Union” address, they can brainstorm ideas for sculptures that invoke the President’s vision for the nation, or choose to commemorate the President himself, or another American figure, event or ideal.
As you can see, there are many art lessons and ways to relate American politics and the President’s “State of the Union” address to art class. The annual speech can be an excellent starting point in introducing students to the work of artists who dealt with subject matter about government and U.S. history, as well as inspiring students to think outside of their personal realm and become more civic-minded.
You may also be interested in reading:
10 Iconic American Paintings Every Child Should Learn
10 Contemporary American Artists Every Child Should Learn
American Art Lessons for Elementary Classes
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