This semester, my schedule works out to where one of my classes will not have art almost each Friday due to our school’s new (awesome) service program. I’d like to keep them on the same schedule with my other classes, so I decided to implement an artwork of the week discussion on Fridays with my other classes so that I can (attempt to) keep them all at the same pace.
The artwork of the week will be one that I choose that may or may not be related to what we are covering in class, but it will give them by the end of the semester a lot of art discussions under their belt just for the sake of looking at and thinking about art. Because that is important.
This week, we looked at Don’t Let that Shadow Touch Them by Lawrence Beall Smith. I’ve discussed this artwork many time with varying ages of students, and I would say it is good for 6th grade and older as 6th graders usually would have covered World War II at some point in their education. I also have included this work as an art criticism essay test question when I taught college as well.
Take a look at the artwork and think about the following questions. I had my students look and write about it quietly before we had any discussion about it. These are the questions I used.
- What does the shadow represent, and why would you not want it to touch the children?
- What symbols and images did the artist use to create emotion in the viewer?
- What emotion did the artist want you to feel when viewing this artwork?
- Why was this artwork created?
Would you like a free printable of these questions to use in your classroom? Click here to download.
I like to have students write about this one first because it is pretty easy to interpret so the discussions are not quite as long as they would be if the meaning was more enigmatic. We discuss that point though; it is easy because it was meant to be easy. The makers of the poster wanted to hit you hard and fast so you would take action.
This was a work of propaganda from the U.S. Government during World War II. The U.S. and other governments printed posters during the war in order to encourage people to support the war effort, especially through financial support by buying war bonds.
The shadow is of course the swastika, the emblem of the Nazi party. The All-American children hold symbols of their country and the war–a toy planes, an American flag, a newspaper, and a doll. The artist inspires fear with the looming shadow and concerned expressions but takes it to the extreme with the doll who has been touched by the shadow and who now appears dead.
According to Grinnell College, this artwork was originally based off of a Canadian work with a similar theme.
Looking through even more World War II propaganda posters, it’s interesting to see all of the people they are trying to reach and the emotions. From a patriotic dad to a lovesick new wife to a worried mom, they’ve got them all covered.
Check out this slideshow for a few more World War II posters that I found interesting! (If you are reading this by e-mail, you may need to click on the post title in the e-mail to see the slideshow.)
After discussing the work, I discuss with the students the meaning of propaganda and the choices that artists and the people who commission them make to manipulate the viewer.
We live in a world that bombards us by images, and I’d like to think that stopping and looking at art like this makes us better prepared to face what we see in magazines, on the internet, and in newspapers today.
Click here to download the free printable of this activity.
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