Celebrating Black Artists

Celebrating Black Artists 

Overarching Question: How can we celebrate the accomplishment of black artists?

Students will be able to analyze the works of notable black American artists to make connections to their contributions to American culture. After reading about the accomplishments of Misty Copeland, a contemporary ballet dancer, students will trace the success of black artists from the Harlem Renaissance to today. How did these artists encourage the development of future black artists? To what extent are black artists limited in “mainstream” art?

Article: Copeland makes history as first black female principal dancer with ABT

 Tip: Assign Instructions

Understanding the article: Comprehension Questions

Middle and high school (grades 7, 9, 12)

  • In the article, Adrienne Lofton says Copeland has an “underdog mentality.” Choose a line from the article that explains what Lofton means by this.
  • In your opinion, which event from the article most influenced Copeland’s life? Why? <
  • Why do you think Misty Copeland’s commercial included a letter that said she has the “wrong body for ballet”?

Elementary school (grades 3 and 5)

  • Which of Copeland’s accomplishments do you think is most impressive? Why?
  • Why did the author include information about Misty Copeland’s family and childhood?
  • Why are Misty Copeland’s Under Armour commercials important?

 Tip: Shared Annotations

Classroom Activity: Connection to Harlem Renaissance

 Misty Copeland’s groundbreaking success is especially interesting in the context of other artists in black history. First make sure your students understand the article. You can supplement this with the video below:

Misty Copeland On Changing the Face of Ballet Time 100

Guiding Questions:

  • What is ballet?
  • Who is Misty Copeland?
  • Why is this a historic moment for black artists?

Teacher Note: The next section can be completed in multiple class periods.

Next, have students trace the history of black art back to the Harlem Renaissance. Explain this as the period of time during the 1920s of the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that occurred in Harlem, New York City. For more information, look at: A Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials (LOC) 

You can have your students split up into groups to look at several of these influential artists that influenced this cultural shift.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are their accomplishments?
  • How did they shift black art in the United States?
  • What are the differences between the accomplishments of male and female artists?

 Tip: Customized Write Prompt

Primary Sources 

Then find connections between Misty Copeland’s accomplishments and those of other celebrated artists such as:

As I Grew Older” Langston Hughes
Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing” (1944), William H. Johnson
Jitterbugs” (1942) , William H. Johnson
It Don’t Mean a Thing” (1943) Duke Ellington
Harlem Hopscotch” (1971) Maya Angelou

Students can use the primary resources above and independent research to help list the accomplishments of each artist.

In groups, they can also create a small poster that lists the accomplishments and important facts about their careers and their influence on future black artists.

Lastly, students can complete a Gallery Walk to observe the other celebrated artists.

Extension: Students can write an interview with the artist. Students would then perform the short interview with the artist to the class. Students would be encouraged to share some of their work and explain inspiration. What were their challenges in creating their work? How does it feel to be a celebrated artist?

 Tip: Monitor student progress from these activities by viewing your Teacher Binder

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