Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 07.30.18

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in Images of the Unites States Flag

From Dr. Patty Bode

My fourth and final blog post for the month of July extends the discussion about iconography of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty. This post focuses mostly on the flag imagery. Each of my posts this month has considered the NAEA mission to advance “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” By building on the dialogue and inquiry that I hoped to generate in the first three posts, I invite readers here to consider questions with their students such as: What are flags for? Do flags unite or divide a society? Which flags get sanctioned or recognized? Which flags go unrecognized? Can we make a list and a visual catalogue of flags that represent diverse voices such as the LGBTQ rainbow flag, the flag of Native Nations in our region, the Black Nationalist flag, the Black Lives Matter banner? Which flags get driven underground? How can our classrooms, museum education studios and community sites consider the multiple perspectives of the United States flag while cultivating respectful speaking and listening in democratic dialogue? (See July 2 blog post “Global understanding amidst flag waving” for more inquiry-based strategies).

Given NAEA’s revitalized commitment to issues of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion through the leadership of the NAEA Task force on Art “ED & i,” this post asks readers to consider a handful of images of the US flag that assert diverse voices and perspectives. These images and the resources included here may provide means to transform art education curriculum with deliberate inclusive strategies that move us closer to our goal of equitably fulfilling human potential.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.08 AM

Fig 1. Image credit: Inge Grødum / Aftenposten. This political cartoon depicting Donald Trump as a brutal sheriff glaring at sorrowful detained children was printed in the June 20, 2018, issue of Aftenposten, Norway’s largest printed newspaper.  Retrieved from

Fig. 2. Children peek through the border wall fence along the US-Mexico border wall at Border Field State Park in San Diego. (Reuters / Mike Blake) The Nation. Retreieved from

These two newspaper images of the US flag that appropriate its stripes as bars of imprisonment address the current crisis of children being separated from their families (which was more thoroughly addressed in my two previous blog posts). Art historian and cultural critic, Beck Feibelman compares the atrocities of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s caged performances in his article “Artists Warned Us: Children in Cages Will Be Treated Like Animals” posted in online The Clyde Fitch Report which self describes “Arts and politics are wedded ideas indispensable to the fabric and soul of society.”

Those two images may be compared to a collection of images below from artists representing a diverse collection of voices, from varying social positions, across multiple decades, using an assortment  media. Rather than provide my own interpretation of each piece, I post each image followed by some teaching resources. In Blog 1, I provided an overview of inquiry-based strategies for dialectical classroom engagement, which could be useful when studying these with your students. I end this post with an art project by a high school art teacher and her students.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.17 AMJaune Quick-to-See Smith. I see red. McFlag. 1996.

For teaching resources, see Quick-to-See Smith’s web site.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum provides rich teaching resources featuring Quick-to-See Smith’s work, including a captivating video. 

Garth Greenan Gallery in New York, which represents Quick-to-See Smith’s work  provides this one-page PDF, which could be useful as a classroom hand out.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.25 AMBarbara Kruger. Untitled (questions). 1991.

Teaching resources about Barbara Kruger and her work can be found on the Art21 web site including a photo of this piece “Untitled (Questions)” shown above as an installation (Mary Boone Gallery 1991. Courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York. © Barbara Kruger). Additional resources can be found at the MoMA web site showcases the range of exhibits, installations and online engagements of Kruger.

For more recent work, see The New Yorker article about Kruger’s 2017 installation pieces for the Performa biennial. For example, several of her questions, such as “Who owns what?” are printed on red vinyl decals wrapping around the ramps at the skatepark in Coleman Square Playground.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.34 AMNacho Becerra. Mexican-American flag. 2014. Retrieved from: //

Becerra, whose full name is Jose Becerra Marquez, explained in a 2014 interview, “After hearing about the “Immigration Reform” I chose to use the sarape because to me it’s colors represent all the different people that would like to be “legal” in this beautiful and abundant country.” That interview with Becerra may be discussed in the classroom and compared to other interviews featuring the artists in this post. We can ask, why do some artists gain more attention by the press, galleries and museums? How do issues of equity, diversity and inclusion influence what we see as art and what gets promoted, propagated and circulated? 

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.43 AMEsther HernandezLibertad. 1976. Retrieved from  //

Hernandez discussed this piece with Latinopia,

I created “Libertad” while I was a student at UC Berkeley back in 1976. It was the American Bi-Centennial. So I felt I would be fun to turn that upside down and tell another story in terms not just of the country of the United States but also the statue of Liberty and sort of reclaiming the Americas is how I saw it. So I ended up re-carving the Statute of Liberty into a Mayan sculpture, and I put Aztlán on the bottom, sort of reclaiming the Americas as brown (2010).

Students will be inspired by hearing from Hernandez in her own words in this brief video from Citizen Films in San Francisco where she discusses her commitment to community engagement and her work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.50 AMHowardena Pindell. Separate But Equal Genocide: Aids. 1991-2.

Earlier this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented the first major survey of her work titled, Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen. Also, the 2018 traveling retrospective of Pindell’s work was reviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of Art News, and that article which also provides a succinct biographical overview of her career.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York provides resources for teachers about Pindell’s work. For example, see the MoMALearning page for classroom resources about her piece “Free, White and 21” including a link to her video-performance piece, and a link to an interview. 

Further research. There are hundreds of examples of the US flag being appropriated in artistic statements.  This could be a fascinating research assignment for students as they uncover imagery and teach one another about their own interpretations and read artists statements. In another article by Beck Feibelman, “American Flag Art Has Better Things To Be Than Patriotic,” he has featured multiple other examples. 

Art-making and studio practices in the art room.   Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 10.56.58 AMSeptember 11th Remembrance flag. Amanda Davis, art teacher at Hull High School, Hull, Massachusetts. Collaborative piece by Hull High School students. Mixed media: tissue paper stars and stripes and markers, pencils, watercolors, for student’s individual squares. 5 ft. L X 3 1/2 ft W.

Art teacher, Amanda Davis at Hull High School in Hull, Massachusetts, led students in a project that recognizes and honors individual student voice, and identity while responding to community connections. The students were intrigued and inspired by the story of the National 9/11 flag, which was famously salvaged from the wreckage World Trade Center, and featured in much of the visual culture surrounding the events of September 11, 2001.  Then seven years later, the tattered flag was sent throughout the United States to be patched up with pieces of the US flags from around the country.  In the students’ Hull High School flag, each student's individual square represents their idea of what it means to be American.  Then the students put together each piece to form the whole flag to represent the idea collaging together many voices in one community, and the strength of diverse perspectives in one country.

Ultimately if the US flag represents what it means to be American – or to participate in the democracy of US society – there will certainly be multiple interpretations and understandings of those experiences. While there may be some who see these diverse images as unpatriotic, my series of blog posts asserts that full participation in a democratic society requires listening to multiple voices and speaking one’s world view, which can cultivate more global understanding. As art educators we have an opportunity to demonstrate that art making and community engagement holds steadfast to democratic ideals that are in alignment with the most treasured tenets of the United States greatest protections.

Exceptional thanks to Amanda Davis and her students at Hull High School in Hull, Massachusetts.


Special thanks for crowd-sourcing imagery and conceptual frame work via facebook to Rachel ArmentanoJeff Broome, Sarah Clendenin,  Kate Collins, Jason CoxAmanda Davis, Alice Gentili, Lillian Lewis,  Jorge Lucero, Mindy Nierenberg, Teresa Partridge, Julia Katz Terry, and Amy Wolpin of  Badass Teachers Association.


Tuesday 07.24.18

Visual Arts Education, Liberty, and Protection

From Dr. Patty Bode

My third blog post in July continues to consider the iconic imagery of The Statue of Liberty through a semiotic lens. The concept of protection is investigated within our NAEA mission to advance “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” Human potential is exceptionally vulnerable without protective rights. In what follows I explore the notion of visual representation of protection with possibilities for transforming curriculum.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.29.54 PMKäthe Kollwitz. 1942.  “Seed for the Planting Must not be Ground.” Lithograph. 14 ½ x 15 1/5. Fisher Fine Arts Library Image Collection Pennsylvania University.

Through discussions with students in grades PK-12, I have collaboratively studied this lithograph, “Seed for the Planting Must not be Ground” (1942) by Käthe Kollwitz dozens of times. Each time I ask students, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

“Protection” is a universal reply. I have heard from students of all ages state, “The mother is protecting the children.” Then I encourage more description by asking, “What makes you say that?” Students articulate a long list of artistic choices about the depiction of gesture: the position of the arms and hands, the way the children are hiding under her arms and her dress, the firmness with which she is holding them close, the look on the mother’s face, the direction in which the children are peeking out from under the garment, the expression of fear or bewilderment on the kids’ faces…” We consider all those gestures as visual cues and deliberate choices of the artist. Kollwitz’s figurative method is telling a story about fear and protection.

Later in the classroom dialogue, after providing students the opportunity to argue, describe and listen to one another, I ask them: “From what is the mother protecting the children?”  Very young children hypothesize that it is a monster, or a thunderstorm. Older students typically turn to ideas from current events – in whatever month or year I am teaching this unit. When I tell the students that this was made in 1942 in Berlin, Germany, many students interpret that this piece is a statement against war in the sociohistorical context of Nazi Germany. They make essential links between their own lives, fears and need for protection with social context of the piece.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.30.03 PMBarry Blitt.  July 2, 2018. “Yearning to Breather Free.” The New Yorker. Cover illustration. 

Fear and protection. This illustration by Barry Blitt in response to current crisis of forced family separation at the US-Mexico border on the cover of The New Yorker uses some similar – though not identical - gestural choices that we see in the Kollwitz lithograph. Most viewers agree that Blitt’s piece is a portrayal of the Statue of Liberty.  

The common icon of the Statue of  Liberty is instantaneously recognized, even though Blitt’s illustration depicts only some drapery and a portion of a human foot. To state the obvious: The Statue of Liberty is a full figure, which includes two arms and a head. We are well familiar with the image of her left hand holding a tabula ansata inscribed in Roman numerals with "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI" (July 4, 1776), and her right hand holding a torch. She has a complete face and full head, topped with a crown of seven spikes representing the seven seas and seven continents of the world. The sculpted figure is not just some drapery with some toes as we see on this cover of The New Yorker. Even though the details are not visible, our acculturation to the symbols and semiotics of US society tells us when we look at this picture of folded cloth, human toes and children’s faces: “This is the Statue of Liberty.” When viewing this particular appropriation of the Statue of Liberty, most viewers have a semiotic response that goes something like this, “This is the Statue of Liberty, and the Statue of Liberty has specific societal importance and cultural meanings attached to it in USA historical context. This illustration is juxtaposing the USA’s historical values of welcoming of immigrants and protecting rights, with images of frightened immigrant children – causing some dissonance or tension.” Depending on each person’s worldviews, the response may prompt a range of emotive, intellectual and political reactions.

These statements may seem obvious to many, but in a classroom dialogue, this type of explicit analysis of iconography with students may guide them into metacognition about the range of semiotics they unconsciously interpret. How do we know this is the Statue of Liberty? When and how did we learn to recognize it and name it? What did we – and what do we currently continue to - learn about its meaning? If this is the Statue of Liberty, and if the children are hiding in her garment while peering out with looks of fear, bewilderment and sadness…what does this picture mean? Do these children feel protected by The Statue of Liberty? Or are they ducking and covering with no real protection? Why did the artist choose to truncate the full figure and to omit the facial expression of Lady Liberty? What might that imply?

For a glimpse into the artistic process of Barry Blitt’s arrival at this drawing on the cover of the July 2, 2018 The New Yorker magazine, see this brief article by art editor, Françoise Mouly, which includes three of the many sketches Blitt submitted to editors for consideration for this cover on the theme of immigrant families being separated at the US border.

Multiple contexts, multiple perspectives. As I stated in the my first blog post in July, when “we can help students expand knowledge about that various meanings of these objects, and learn about the roots of these perspectives… art teachers do not proselytize their personal, regional, political, religious, or national views, but they provide an educational setting in which all views can be considered and the origins of such views may be investigated, discussed and added to the mosaic of understandings.” The responsibility of art educators in this case is to offer multiple contexts from which to study, analyze, and interpret various works, which informs the student’s own studio production and community engagement.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.30.17 PMEric J. Garcia. June 8, 2018. “U.S. has NO Empathy.” Retrieved from

Liberty and violence? Multiple contexts to analyze and study can be seen in this piece by Eric J. Garcia, which may invoke a sense of alarm and fear, in contrast to portraying Lady liberty as a protector of children. Yet, one could interpret that the perspective of the outstretched hand is protecting somebody or something. Emotional and physical violence are animated in this graphic version of the Statue of Liberty through symbolism of the skull-face, barbed wire, and desperate gesture of the adult reaching for the crying child. The outrage of family separation is emphasized with illustrative technique and exaggerated perspective, stimulating passionate classroom dialogue anchored in empathy for both the family in the picture, and for those at the US border-Mexico. Judith Briggs (2013) provides an overview for art educators to use Garcia’s work as an instructional resource. See more of Garcia’s art at

Fear, protection, liberty, violence and vulnerability have been recurring themes in visual culture mass media of mass media the past eighteen months.  The notion of protection emerges due to vulnerability which foregrounds questions about the forces that produce vulnerability. This can lead to pondering power structures that position certain groups as vulnerable: children and groups that are “protected” under civil right law due to race, ethnicity, religion, national origin sexual orientation, gender identity and more.

For example, these two images of women wearing hijabs being guarded by the Statue of Liberty were produced in response to the Muslim travel ban announced by the White House in January 2017, and that ban was upheld recently – just weeks ago - by the US Supreme Court. I juxtapose those representations of Muslim women with another Käthe Kollwitz piece here, to be considered in art room discussion.  Inquiry about the images in Fig. 1 by with a child and Lady Liberty by Atiq Shahid (follow Shahid’s work on twitter @atiqshahid2 ) and Fig 3. by  Jamie A. Hu (see Hu’s web site) can be led with questions such as:  Who or what is being protected? In addition to the protection of individuals, how and when does visual culture refer to the protection of rights? What are civil rights? What characteristics and groups are “protected” by United States anti-discrimination law? What is the role or the responsibility of an artist to contribute to the protection of rights? The sociopolitical context of each image may be considered while making rhizomatic connections among the themes that emerge within the concept of protection.

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1. Atiq Shahid (7-29-2017). Retrieved from link
Fig. 2. Käthe Kollwitz German. Mothers II (Mütter), for the series War, 1931. Lithograph on paper. 53.3 x 75.6 cm. RISD museum.
Fig. 3. Jamie A. Hu. Retrieved from

Recontextualizing. There appear to be countless examples of images of the Statue of Liberty being recontextualized within current events, juxtaposed with conflicting messages, appropriated to convey urgent outcries, and layered with textual implications. Co-authors Robert R. Hieronimus and Laura E. Cortner of the book, The Secret Life of Lady Liberty: Goddess in the New World (2016) have analyzed many of the archetypal application of imagery in this useful volume. Furthermore, they have collected more recent imagery that re-appropriates the Statue of Liberty since their book publication. These can be viewed on the book’s web page at this link.

  Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.30.49 PM
Fig. 4. Senufo Tyekpa Maternity Figure, Ivory Coast Wood, Oil Patina H. 21.3 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1981.397. Gift of Lawrence Gussman.
Fig. 5. Isis nursing Horus - Egyptian Museum, Cairo. 19th Dynasty 1300 B.C.
Fig. 6. Buddha Facing Mother and Child, from Ajanta Cave #19, Maharashtra, India, ca. 5th-7th century A.D.

Global understanding, intertextuality and protection. Images of parents holding and protecting children can be found in global contexts across eras of visual expression in the history of humanity. Art educators may compare these images with those discussed above, using open-ended questions about how students interpret these narratives that are told through these figurative depictions of parents and children together. An essential component of cultivating students’ critical understandings of visual culture requires navigation of the intertextual links and connections to various cultural expressions and artifacts. Paul Duncum (2015) points out:

But to fully grasp this transformation [of art education into visual culture education] it is necessary to understand the nature of visual culture as rhizomatic, as intertextual, as one image links to numerous others past and present, to other cultural forms and always embedded in social preoccupations, anxious certainties, fears, hopes and desires. Starting from a single image and moving laterally, visual culture connects with many forms of representation, past and present, across cultures, in a variety of media, and manifesting a huge range of issues in either support of, resistant to, or alternative to, mainstream contemporary life. Above all it is important to grasp the transformation to visual culture as linking to students own lives (p. 60).

Linking students’ life stories to past and present cultures is meaningful for students of all ages from very young children to graduate students. These three sculptural images that depict adults caring for, and protecting children may engage lively dialogue. The nature of visual culture as rhizomatic and interconnected can be emphasized by comparing these sculptures to the concepts that students express when studying the imagery in the Statue of Liberty cartoons and the Käthe Kollwitz drawings.

Separation repetition: Intertextuality and rhizomatic curriculum. Unfortunately, US history is replete with imagery of forced family separation by US governmental policy. There are ugly examples of families being torn apart by enslavement, emphasizing the long history of egregious breach of rights of against the African American community, and its implications for inequities in contemporary US society. Other examples can be found in the forced removal of Native American children from their homes into boarding schools. Studying these images can comprise the rhizomatic nature of curriculum when connections to historical events and visual imagery are woven with contemporary understandings. Duncum (2015) explains Deleuze and Guattari (1987)’s postmodern concept of rhizomes as applied to curriculum in his article about  transforming art education into visual culture education which,  “conceptualizes knowledge as rhizomatic where knowledge is like grass, like ginger, like packs of animals, but also like the Internet and most significant of all, like the way human brains are interconnected” (p. 53).

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.31.07 PMBibb, Henry. (1849). The baby of a slave is auctioned, despite the pleas of its mother.
Illustration by Henry Bibb, a former enslaved person.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.31.14 PMLEFT: Thomas Moore as he appeared when admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School, May 1874 (DETAIL). RIGHT: Thomas Moore, after tuition at the Regina Indian Industrial School. Source: Library and Archives Canada/Annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs (1896)/AMICUS 90778/nlc-01524, 90778/nlc-01525. Retrieved from Native News Online

Visible and invisible liberty, protection, violence and trauma. This focus on interconnectivity can emphasize that what we do not see is just as important as what we do see. Notably, when searching archival news,  artifacts and fine art for imagery that depicts the separation of native families and their children, it is almost impossible to find visual documentation of these horrific events. The severity of these sociopolitical events and the generative trauma is visibly erased, while emotional and political scars ensue indeterminately across generations.

Such distressing realities can be confronted within a classroom committed to amplifying silenced voices and uncovering that which has been made invisible. The concept of protection can be investigated by students of all ages with conscientious reading of cartoons, historical documents, art historical lithographs and one’s own life story. Advancing “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding” may be achieved one project at a time with a focus on the vulnerability of human potential and a commitment to protecting civil rights and human rights. In this way, art educators can exponentially expand possibilities for transforming curriculum.

In my final and fourth blog post, I will return to imagery of the USA flag with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion.



Briggs, J. (2013). Eric Garcia: Warrior with a pen. Art Education,66(6), 47-54.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Duncum, P. (2015). Transforming Art Education into Visual Culture Education through Rhizomati Structures. Anadolu Journal of Educational Sciences International [Art Education Special Issue]. 5(3), 47-64.

Hieronimus, R. R. &  Cortner, L. E. (2016). The Secret Life of Lady Liberty: Goddess in the New World. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books. 

I am grateful for the crowd sourcing of imagery and conceptual feedback via Facebook. Special thanks to:
Rachel Armentano, Jeff Broome, Kate Collins,  Sky Cosby, Jason Cox, Amanda Davis, Lili Dahlqvist, Carol Fitch, Leslie Hoffer Gates, Alice Gentili, Lillian Lewis, Jorge Lucero, Josh Kau , Mindy Nierenberg, Teresa Partridge, Julia Katz Terry,  Amy Wolpin, and Badass Teachers Association.


Monday 07. 9.18

Liberty and Visual Culture

From Dr. Patty Bode

In this second blog post for the month of July, I continue reflecting on the semiotics and symbolism of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty within the context of our mission statement, which asserts that NAEA “advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” The grand narratives that are embodied by the Statue of Liberty hold implications for both fulfilling human potential and global understanding within the public imagination, and will be the focus of this post.

Lady Liberty’s identity crisis. As this blog post goes live, the United States immigration policies are in direct conflict with the narratives of fulfilling human potential and global understanding as children and their parents are traumatically separated at the US border. This conflict is illustrated in the abundance of political cartoons and social media memes that point to the dissonance of the national identity of United States as embodied in Lady Liberty’s image. See how the policy change separated migrant children from their parents in this analysis by the New York Times.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.01 AMCartoon credit: Signe Wilkinson. Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.11 AMCartoon credit: Nick Anderson Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

As of this week, the court ordered deadline has passed for the US government to reunite all children under the age of 5 with their parents, with many families still waiting. This and many other recent events around US immigration policy have invoked the Statue of Liberty in image and text both nationally and internationally.

Social, cultural, historical context. Most students in US schools learn about the legacy of “Lady Liberty” as explained by the Library of Congress:  “A gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, the 151-foot-tall statue was created to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom and democracy to the nation and to the world for well over a century.” President Grover Cleveland commemorated the statue in 1886.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.33 AMStatue of Liberty, New York Harbor. Detroit Photographic Co., 1905. Photocrom Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Sociopolitical context. Works of art, public monuments, and objects of material culture are produced and understood within a sociopolitical context. From its inception, the narrative power of the Statue of Liberty has been embedded with the symbolism of freedom and democracy and how those ideals are rooted in The Age Enlightenment. The enduring potency of its visual and material culture is intertwined with the assertion of social values in the United States. In many ways, the image of the Statue of Liberty has become synonymous with what the United States hopes to be. When there is tension between USA ideals and actions, the image of Lady Liberty moves to the foreground in our national visual culture.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.44 AMMelania Trump, the first lady, departed Joint Base Andrews on Thursday after traveling to Texas. Her jacket reads, “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Credit: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.01 AMIllustration by Justin Teodoro widely circulated on social media after First Lady Melania Trump’s visit to detained immigrant children.

Connecting critically. Teaching about the historical and contemporary context of the Statue of Liberty can guide students to more critical understandings and sincere meaning-making amidst the plethora of visual reference to it in contemporary art, political cartoons, daily news and the seemingly endless promotion of commercial products such as posters, calendars, baseball caps, t-shirts, bath towels, salt and pepper shakers and more. The National Core Arts Standards call for students to: “relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.” Providing students to engage with both the historical underpinnings and contemporary expressions can open possibilities for students’ own interpretations.

Contemporary installations. Artist, Danh Vo’s installation, We the People provides an example of the engaging historical significance within contemporary social fabric. It is explained on  

We The People (2010-2014) is a 1:1 replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, recreated by artist Danh Vo (b. 1975) in about 250 individual pieces. Vo’s segmented version is faithful to the original, using the same fabrication techniques and copper material. However, he never intends to assemble all of the pieces of the statue. Instead We The People invites us to experience this world famous icon on a human scale, and to reflect on the meaning of liberty from multiple perspectives.

Vo’s work places various replicated pieces of the Statue of Liberty as installations in a range of museum sites and public spaces. The connections or disconnections are left to the viewer to interpret or conceptually piece together. The provides an education guide for families and teachers, and many other details to engage in the work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.28 AMDan Vo. We the People. Presented by Public Art Fund. City Hall Park & Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, NY. May 16 – December 5, 2014

Responding to text and image. Text matters. Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem “The New Colossus” is inextricably bound with the image of the Statue of Liberty, and it is often invoked in public comment and debate. In The Atlantic (January 2018), an article titled, “The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty” by Walt Hunter, assistant professor of world literature at Clemson University provides a cogent argument for re-reading and responding to both text and image. The National Core Arts Standards names the process of responding as: “Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.” Reading and discussing texts can provide pathways to perceiving, analyzing and interpreting the cultural significance of the statue and its relationship to the poem in the public discourse.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.40 AMThe 1903 bronze plaque located in the Statue of Liberty's museum.
Accessed from National Park Service at:

 Younger children and connecting. Younger students may be able to engage in the process of connecting as defined by the standards: “Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context” through children’s literature that provides some sociohistorical understandings. The book, Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris provides children with insights into some of the artistic decisions and symbolic choices of the origins of the statue. By studying and discussing this text juxtaposed with current political cartoons, young students may develop their own riffs on the statue, or possibly design a new, contemporary figure to express our social ideals.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.52 AM
Continuing the dialogue.
Unfortunately, it is not a new phenomenon to witness disconnections between our “golden door” - Emma Lazarus’s ending of the sonnet emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty - and the actions of the US government. Many artists have called attention to the incongruities between declarations of rights and exclusionary societal actions. For example, Faith Ringgold’s vibrant work with story quilts is well known among art teachers, and her most famous work published in Tar Beach is widely used in art rooms. Art lessons garner children’s attention to its captivating visual narrative, as well as the accompanying text that calls out racial injustice. Yet, in many schools, the study of Ringgold’s work stops there, and the vast body of her work is ignored. Ringgold’s activism for women and people of color in the art world throughout her prolific career has been well documented  and deserves to be included to guide students in full understanding of the sociopolitical context of her accomplishments (see resources from the National Museum of Women in the Arts).

These two pieces by Faith Ringgold could be investigated as a follow-up to a study of Tar Beach. Using the inquiry-based methods I discussed in the previous blog post, art teachers may guide students in a dialogue about what they notice and what they wonder, with special attention to methods that juxtapose familiar symbols in unfamiliar contexts.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.54.03 AMFaith Ringgold. American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding,
Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.
Faith Ringgold. We came to America, 1997. Acrylic on canvas,
painted and pieced border, 74.5” x 70.5 in.

Role of art educators. Given the national climate around immigration rights, especially after the 2016 presidential election, the subsequent presidential executive orders in January 2017*, and the events around refugee rights and family separation of 2018, art teachers and school leaders are witnessing the effects of the anti-immigrant tone and policies on many students and families. I have written elsewhere about how in times such as these, school leadership can make a difference in guiding teachers, supporting families, and setting a tone of active affirmation and support despite society’s messages of discrimination and exclusion (in Nieto & Bode, 2018 see Chapter 3 section titled "Multicultural Teaching Story: Immigration Rights and Family Stories," pp. 57-61). To help fulfill human potential and lead toward global understanding, art educators are especially well positioned to teach students about the significance of current events, provide avenues of analysis of visual culture and set the stage for amplification of student voice through creating art. If not we, then who?

- PB

*See for Executive Order on January 25, 2017: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. See also Executive Order on January 27, 2017: Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.


Almukhtar, S., Griggs, T., & Yourish, K. (2018, June 20). How Trump’s policy change separated migrant children from their parents.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

Eggers, D.  & Harris, S. (2017). Her right foot. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Hunter, W. (2018, January/February).The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty. The Atlantic, X (x).  Retrieved from

Library of Congress. (2018). Today in History -June 19 – Statue of Liberty. Retrieved from

National Core Arts Standards. (2018). Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theatre And Visual Arts.  Retrieved from

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2018). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education (7th ed.) New York: Pearson.

Public Art Fund. (2014). Danh Vo. "We the People." Retrieved from

Ringgold, F. (1991). Tar Beach. New York: Random House.

I am grateful to the crowd sourcing of imagery and conceptual feedback via Facebook. Special thanks to Sarah Clendenin, Amanda Davis and Jorge Lucero.


Monday 07. 2.18

Global Understanding Amidst Flag Waving

From Dr. Patty Bode

I will be reflecting on visual and material culture that is commonly proliferated during the month of July across the USA, with special attention to the semiotics and symbolism of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty in this series of monthly mentor blog posts. Each post will consider our mission statement, which asserts that NAEA “advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” Practices in art education that may support the mission of global understanding will be discussed in the context of these images. While promoting global understanding can sound like a lofty goal that may seem out of reach for the work of art educators, there are many concrete teaching strategies that can move us closer to this worthy aspiration.

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Show the image of the US flag to students of any age group or grade level in most US schools, and ask: “What does this mean?” and you will likely hear similar responses such as: “Freedom, liberty, patriotism, pride, unity, justice for all.” In such discussions, documenting the students’ words and ideas on the board shows all students that their voices are heard. This can open a dialogue about visual and material culture and the how society imbues specific symbols with meaning.  You can help students think about: Where and how do we learn these messages? Who teaches us, and how do we know the meaning and definition of certain symbols? This supports metacognitive reflection about “how do we know what we know?” It adds a layer of critical introspection about social messaging.

I have used this lesson-starter dozens of times in many different school environments and the initial answers about the US flag are usually the same in urban, rural, suburban, public, private, charter, religious, and secular PK-12 schools. After discussing these responses and the way we learn about the meaning of the flag, I pose another very simple question: “Might it mean something else to somebody else?” Students quickly reply with variations on ideas such as:

“It could mean fear to somebody in a country where we are at war.”

“It could mean hatred to some indigenous people who wish their land was not invaded.”

“Maybe it could mean confusion to undocumented immigrants who want to be here, but are worried about being imprisoned or deported.”

“It could mean inequality to families of African American heritage because of the history of enslavement.”

Just giving students the invitation to consider others’ perspectives can be a transformative act.  Context matters. Listening to and considering the ideas of others does not negate some students’ positive or patriotic feelings about the US flag, rather it widens their perspectives, so that their own ideas and feelings can be understood in broader sociocultural contexts. Artists and communities of social practice also use symbols and image proliferation in a variety of contexts. They may appropriate iconic symbols and recontextualize them in art materials, installation formats or by juxtaposing other imagery.


For example with this image by Juan Sánchez (1989),  I find that students can spend up to an hour studying closely through inquiry-based dialogue led by the questions, “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?” I use these dialectical practices rooted in Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, combined with  Harvard Project Zero’s Artful Thinking, the work of Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), and Terry Barrett’s frameworks for Reflecting, Wondering, Responding to art. I keep asking and listening and repeating what students say. I do not give answers. I do not pre-teach information about the image. Student voice and student questions are emphasized while community dialogue is prioritized spawning collective uncovering of ideas and interpretations.  Students notice and question with phrases such as: “the US flag appears in opposite colors and why did the artist chose to do that; the heart means love, but the nails in the heart seem to mean suffering; there’s barbed wire, and who is it keeping in or keeping out; the Puerto Rican flag and the silhouette – who is that; those documents must be important; the statue of liberty and why is she cropped off; the text, the words, the story...”


In the final portion of this lesson’s discussion I display these two images side by side and ask students: “Both of these images contain the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty: Do they mean the same thing? A lively dialogue ensues with students explaining semiotics, symbolism, social context and arguing over artists’ intent.

Of course there are always more questions to ask such as: Why flags? Do flags unite or divide us? Are there flags that go unrecognized? Who decides? What flags matter to you? Why?

One avenue to promoting global understanding is to help students cultivate multiple perspectives, that is, to examine commonly held viewpoints through the prism of criticality and inquiry. There may be a wide variety of lenses through which meaning is made of a symbol, yet students may have not yet been exposed to the range of possibilities and understandings of such symbols.  The United States flag and the Statue of Liberty each hold iconic status in national and international visual and material culture. Within one’s individual belief system and affiliation groups, there are likely common understandings of these images. However, there are multiple interpretations of these images. To make an effort to see oneself, one’s perspectives, one’s group, one’s society or one’s flag, through the eyes of others can develop empathy for the experiences of others, and strengthen participation in democratic dialogue. Rather than teaching that there is one correct way to understand an image or object, we can help students expand knowledge about that various meanings of these objects, and learn about the roots of these perspectives. In this way, art teachers do not proselytize their personal, regional, political, religious, or national views, but they provide an educational setting in which all views can be considered and the origins of such views may be investigated, discussed and added to the mosaic of understandings.

Next week, I will investigate other imagery that takes up the US flag and the statue of liberty and how these can support art projects in the PK-12 art room and college classroom, including these two pieces by Faith Ringgold.

Faith Ringgold. American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding, 1967. Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.

Faith Ringgold. We came to America, 1997. Acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, 74.5” x 70.5 in

- PB


Barrett, T. (2003). Interpreting Art: Reflecting, Wondering, and Responding. Boston: McGraw-Hill.