an exploration of the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Meets the learning standards for grades 4-5 (can be adapted)  
Media Type:  mixed media collage
Subject Integration: Fine Arts, English Language Arts, Social Studies
Formal Lesson Plan and TEKS information (coming soon)

Materials:  writing materials, color pencils/chalk/oil pastels/crayons/markers, scraps of color paper or painted paper, yarn/twine, miscellaneous found objects, school glue, substrate

Special Equipment: none

Collage inspired by the artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat

This lesson provides 10 new vocabulary words: 

  • Charismatic
  • Prolific
  • Collage
  • Neo-expressionism
  • Figurative
  • Anatomy
  • Status Quo
  • Marginalized
  • Avant-garde
  • Improvisation 

“Status Quo” is the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues. Look at these paintings by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and discuss what conventions are being challenged:

Activity 1:

Jean-Michele Basquiat was a charismatic and prolific artist who could read and write by age 4, could speak English, French and Spanish by age 11, and completed 1500 artistic works during his 10 year career. Check out this video!

Neo-expressionist art expresses an inner emotional state.  How does artmaking help us process and understand our experiences in the world?  

How did Basquiat used art to address social issues and create platforms for marginalized populations. 

Activity 2:

Basquiat frequently used words, letters, symbols, and anatomy in his artwork to convey his ideas about life. His avant-garde approach created a visual riddle for viewers to decipher. 

Draw two columns on a piece of paper and to list 2 examples of anatomy that are used for healthy behaviors (e.g. Legs- going for a walk, Lungs– taking deep breaths, Stomach– eating a healthy meal, Arms- sports, Hands- drawing/painting, Eye- reading a book.) 

Time to practice improvisation! Take 5 minutes to write every word/ song lyric/ poem/ adjective/verb/onomatopoeia you can think for each of your chosen pieces of anatomy and healthy behavior. Work quickly and spontaneously, without overthinking. Be creative! 

Activity 3:

Refer to your list from Activity 2 and decide which piece of anatomy you were most inspired by. 

Gather the collage supplies. Use what is available… Improvise! Find something to be the substrate of the collage (cardboard/ posterboard/ wood/ file folder/ tile and set it aside. 

Choose at least 2 colors of paper and start writing the words and terms from Activity 2 all over the pages. Write the words in different sizes, directions, and styles, covering as much of the paper as possible.  

Next, tear or cut the papers into smaller pieces, and use these pieces as elements of your collages.  Lay out the pieces of your collage before gluing it to the substrate.  

Look again at examples of Basquiat’s art: notice the layers and layers of painting and drawing. Add additional words and doodles over the entire surface of your collage. 

Once the background is richly layered with visual texture, draw a large image of your inspiration anatomy over the entire collage. Remember, figurative drawings must be recognizable, but can be quite stylized and expressive.  

Then, trace the drawing with school glue.  

Apply yarn or twine over the glue lines. 

Add any other found-object embellishments that the piece needs. Lay flat to dry.

Share… Reflect! Did you have a hard/easy time creating this style of artmaking? Share any examples of the avant-garde in current pop-culture you can think of!

Review of Vocabulary for this Lesson:

Charismatic– a personality trait that inspires or draws people together in a positive way.

Prolific– producing a great number or amount of something.

Collage– an artistic composition made of various materials (such as paper, cloth, or wood) glued on a surface.

Neo-expressionism– (from The artistic movement known as neo-expressionism dominated the art market in Europe and the United States during the early and mid-1980s. The artists linked to the movement portrayed the human body and other recognizable objects in a primitive and often subjective manner. Their return to figurative painting was considered to be a move away from the numerous art forms that had been explored during the 1970s. The term neo-expressionism derived from the movement’s similarity to an early 20th-century art movement known as expressionism. Both movements shared an interest in portraying subject matter in a way that expressed an inner emotional state.

Figurative (art)- artwork that is clearly derived from real object sources and is representational.

Anatomy– the branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans, animals, and other living organisms, especially as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts.

Status Quo– the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.

Marginalized– a group of people or a person that is undervalued or looked down on by others.

Avant-garde– new and unusual or experimental ideas. Thinking or actions that go against what is “normal”.

Improvisation– the activity of making or doing something not planned beforehand. Improvisation in the performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation.  Jazz musicians use this technique often.

Extending the Lesson: the book Radiant Child provides more insights into Basquiat’s early life and what inspired him to become an Artist. Here is a video of the book’s artist and author Javaka Steptoe reading the book: