At a Glance

Modern art isn't impossible to understand. Approach it as the product of its time.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn is the U.S. Smithsonian museum dedicated to preserving and sharing modern (late 1800s to c. 1950) and contemporary (1970-present) art—two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and video.

So, you may be asking yourself, how can I fit art into my curriculum? Try exploring how the American Abstract Expressionist or Pop Art movements reflected their time periods. If you're discussing WWI, pull in the Futurists or Dada, art movements which students will love for their irony—Dada as anti-art art and the Futurist's love for violence, speed, and modern technology, which ended with nearly all of the artists involved volunteering as soldiers and dying on the front. Art movements tell us what people were experiencing, and how it made them feel. Not only are they an excellent bridge to the humanity of history, they also let you introduce students to art history, so rarely offered at a high school (or lower) level.

Art and Artists provides short biographies and examples of the works of 18 artists, including such greats as Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, and Man Ray. Ask students to read the bios, pick an image, and write a report on the how the image reflects the time period in which it was made. Perhaps they could make videos instead of writing reports, or they could even create and present their own artwork depicting the original work and its period.

You can also use the collections search to find other works which haven't been highlighted on the site.

Naturally, this being a museum, if you are in the DC area, a field trip would be optimal. The museum is singularly well-designed for avoiding bottle necking. You'll never have to worry that your class is preventing other visitors from moving through the galleries.

You can also attend lectures to increase your knowledge, and potentially strike gold for lesson creation ideas. If you can't attend the talks, you can still listen to many as podcasts.

Let your local students know about the Art Labs for teens and youths. You may just spark a life long interest.