Six Degrees of Barack Obama

Possible Classroom Concepts: Language Arts – Communication, Palindromes, Alphabet

Mathematics- Measurement, Symmetry

Science- Seasons

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Robert Indiana, Ed Ruscha, Ben Rine, Romero Britto

 Commercial Art, Graphic Design, Graffiti Art, Warm And Cool Colors, Positive And Negative Space

Artists predominately communicate with images, but there are a few who use words. So, you are asking yourself, “What do word artists have to do with Barack Obama?”  While investigating three different word artists, I discovered each had a link with Obama. This reminded me of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game or theory. So, I thought, “Hmm, What a coincidence! ‘Six Degrees of Barack Obama’!

Let’s start with Robert Indiana, who is probably the most recognizable word artist. Indiana’s LOVE image has been made into paintings, greeting cards, sculptures and  postage stamps. You can find a short biography about him here and see more of his works here. The word hope also had personal meaning to Indiana. So, in 2008, Indiana began creating artworks in the HOPE image. Indiana had attended art school in Chicago. So, here comes our first Obama link. When he discovered fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama, was using the word hope in his 2008 presidential campaign, Indiana decided to donate all proceeds from printed images of his Hope series to Obama’s campaign. Indiana also produced a print series on the four seasons. (Note, the fall print reads the same from top to bottom and from bottom to top like a palindrome.)

Ed Ruscha also used graphic commercial lettering in his work. In his early years, like  Robert Indiana, he created one word images. He also painted a HOPE image. Compare the two. In Indiana’s “HOPE”, the letters are hard edged and positive shapes. In Ruscha’s “HOPE”, the letters are negative shapes with a much softer edge. Other one word pantings by Ruscha are WON’TDANCE?, and HONK.  Later in his career, Ruscha used phrases, sometimes superimposed over a photographic background in his paintings. Now, let’s talk about one of these phrase paintings and the first of two links to Barack Obama. First, Ruscha’s,  “I Think I’ll” , painting was chosen by the Obamas for display in their private living quarters of the White House. Barack and Michelle Obama must really love Ruscha because, later, they gifted copies of his print,  “Column With Speed Lines” , to both Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Our last Obama link comes from British graffiti artist, Ben Rine. One of his works, “Twenty First Century City” , was gifted to President Obama by Prime Minister David Cameron.  Rine not only likes to paint words, but he also likes to paint alphabet letters. He has even painted the entire alphabet on local business shutters around one London city block. What a GREAT way for parents to teach their children the alphabet.

Another artist who occasionally uses words in his work is Romero Britto.  See some of Britto’s word art here.

So, if you are teaching a unit on communication or simply wish to review vocabulary from a recent unit of study, why not make some word art? Look here and here to find word inspired lessons. (Note these two lessons are a kind of Indiana/Britto combination.) Not only can students practice measurement in creating these images, but they can also review symmetry as is seen in this lesson.

If you are studying the four seasons, a Robert Indiana inspired word or poetry lesson would work. Simply have students brainstorm words that remind them of the different seasons like in this lesson. Younger students can choose just one word for their artwork. Older students could write a palindrome. (Such as Brrr Winter Brrr or Fun Fall Fun) Using a white oil pastel, the students write out their word or phrase onto a white paper. Have students fatten their letters and press hard while writing. Next, paint a watercolor seasonal landscape, pattern (leaves, snowflakes, flowers) or an abstract seasonal color design over the page. The words will magically appear.

I hope this post has been inspirational and will help brighten up one of your teaching units.

How would you teach these concepts? I’d love to hear. To share, simply click on the title of this post, scroll down to the comment section.

See you next time!


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