Abstract Representation

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will choose an issue, event, or object important to their lives and represent it symbolically with original abstract designs.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of abstract design;
  • analyze and discuss the use of symbols in a work of art;
  • synthesize that knowledge to represent an element of their own lives; and
  • create a symbol or symbols using abstract design.

Lesson

  1. Show students the image of the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug. Go through a visual examination exercise with the students and ask them questions about what they see, how they think the artwork was made, who they think made it, and what clues they are using to interpret this information.
  2. Share information from the About the Art section with the students. Have them pay close attention to the symbols on the blanket/rug. Point out that each of the symbols tells us something about the Navajo people and the beliefs of the Navajo artist who created the blanket/rug.
  3. Refer to the information in the “Details” section of About the Art to explain why the blanket/rug was most likely made to be sold.
  4. Discuss the symbols that can be seen in the blanket/rug. Pay special attention to the flag symbol. The flag was significant to Navajo and non-Navajo people alike. It was used in this blanket/rug not only symbolically, but also as a design element. Notice that the flag has been abstracted, or changed to be a representation of the American flag rather than a direct replica.
  5. Divide students into four or five groups.
  6. Have each group look closely at the flag symbols and discuss how they have been abstracted and why they think that might be. Allow access to the information in the About the Art section as well as other research resources as appropriate.
  7. Have students look at the other symbols in the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug, such as the Saltillo diamond. While incarcerated at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico (1863–68), the Navajo people were exposed to Saltillo-style blankets, typical of Northern New Mexico. Have students discuss each symbol and how it has been abstracted or changed in certain ways, either in its design or color, or perhaps to transmit a specific meaning.
  8. Explain to the students that abstract art is based on something real, but the artist chooses to show only those elements of the subject that are most meaningful to them at the time, in a way that represents what they want to say or show. Therefore, an abstraction is not a completely realistic representation. Abstract art is different from non-objective art in which there is not a specific object being represented. Many times people confuse the terms abstract and non-objective.
  9. Tell students that they are going to choose issues, events, or other things that say something about their lives and represent those things with abstracted symbols in a work of art. Each student should brainstorm objects, places, events, people, etc., that have had an impact in their lives or their own personal journey or story. Have them make a list of ideas.
  10. Next, have students brainstorm symbolic representations that would best portray the things on their list? Encourage them to sketch and make notes.
  11. Students should then think about how they would abstract these symbols to create greater meaning, perhaps in a manner similar to how the weaver of the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug abstracted her designs.
  12. If appropriate, invite groups to share ideas or conduct a formal critique session.

Optional Day Two

The lesson outlined above involves only a sketch and plan. You could continue the lesson by having students create a final work of art in whatever media best fits the concept of the art class in which it is being taught. It could be a drawing, painting, clay slab, weaving, graphic art piece, digital work of art, etc.

Materials

  • Drawing or sketch paper
  • Writing or drawing supplies
  • About the Art section on the Eyedazzler, Blanket/Rug
  • Color copies of the Eyedazzler, Blanket/Rug for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Optional:

  • A variety of art media to create a finished work of art

Standards

CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Evaluate and analyze sources using historical method of inquiry and defend their conclusions
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
      • Analyze the concept of complexity, unity and diversity
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug

Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug

About 1885

Artist not known, Navajo, United States

Who Made It?

This blanket/rug was likely the work of a female Navajo artist. Loom weaving was a woman’s art among the Navajos after they learned the skill from their Pueblo neighbors in the 1600s, but today both men and women weave.

Navajo weavers are justly famous for the excellence of their textiles. This style, known as an eyedazzler because of its vivid colors and dizzying design combinations, was popular during the later years of the Transitional period in Navajo weaving (1868–90), when artists began weaving for the tourist market rather than solely for home use. Brightly colored “Germantown” yarns, widely available through newly established trading posts on the Navajo Reservation, made it possible to produce these vibrant masterpieces.

What Inspired It?

During the Transitional period (1868–90) when this blanket/rug was created, Navajo weavers began to produce patterns compatible with the tastes of traders and patrons. Eyedazzler weavings are uniquely Navajo innovations, created to take advantage of a range of commercially made colors not previously available. In some ways you can think of these artists as testing a new product on a new audience.

Although this rectangular weaving is called a blanket or a rug, the decorative fringe and cotton warp (cotton is less durable than wool) suggest that its maker knew it was more likely to be displayed on a wall for decoration than to be used.

Details

The Bold Red
The Bold Red

The red wool used throughout the background is a kind of commercially manufactured yarn called Germantown, named after a town in Pennsylvania that produced these yarns using synthetic dyes.

Saltillo Diamond
Saltillo Diamond

Navajo artists borrowed the serrated diamond motif from New Mexican Saltillo serapes. The Navajo people became familiar with the motif when they were incarcerated at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico (1863–68), where they received Saltillo-style blankets from the United States government.

Flags
Flags

Five flags appear in this eyedazzler. Notice how the artist used them to mimic the look of the American flag but not duplicate it exactly. Navajo weavers of this time often used flags in their textiles as design elements to appeal to non-Navajo customers.

Crosses
Crosses

Artists often included cross-shaped designs in their eyedazzlers. Despite the obvious association with Christianity, these designs may have been derived from traditional Navajo women’s dresses.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.