Expressing Yourself: Women in the Arts

Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through stories about the experiences of professional female artists of color who have fought to claim their space in a world that has long excluded people who look like them.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students will continue their yearlong interrogation of what it means to come of age by studying the transformative power of artistic expression. By focusing on the experiences of professional female artists of color, students will learn about barrier-breaking women who have fought to claim their space in a world that has long excluded people who look like them.

Students will spend the first two weeks reading Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, the memoir of ballet dancer Misty Copeland, who made history as the first female African American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, the most prestigious ballet company in the United States. Students will read about the ways that Copeland overcame obstacles in her life, and think both about how ballet shaped Copeland’s coming-of-age experience, and the broader impact that Copeland has had on the art form of ballet. Students will finish off this first part of the unit by writing a short analysis of a dance performance.

Students will spend the next five days studying women in the visual arts, analyzing the lives and work of feminist art activists, the Guerrilla Girls, Japanese-American sculptor Ruth Asawa, Native American painter Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, the quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and Latina printmaker and activist, Favianna Rodriguez. Through articles, interviews, and videos, students will learn about the myriad ways that an artist’s identity can shape the work that they make, and the ways that art can be used as a powerful platform for communicating ideas—and changing the world.

In this unit, students will read and talk about artists, but they will also regularly “read” and talk about works of art. For each visual artist that students study, they will spend at least fifteen minutes looking closely at the artist’s work and discussing observations, questions, and reflections with classmates.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • Why do people make art?
  • Why does an artist’s identity matter?
  • What are some of the obstacles female artists—and specifically female artists of color—encounter?

Enduring Understandings

  • Women and minority artists have historically faced many obstacles to their success, and the fight against prejudice and discrimination in the art world continues today.
  • Art is a powerful way to express oneself and one’s own identity, and can be a platform for an artist to communicate their unique perspective to the world.
  • All people benefit from the inclusion of more diverse voices in the art world.

Vocabulary

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Text-based

chaotic deride distorted innovative intuition provocative prodigy stereotype surpass trailblazer turbulant visionary

Academic

afterword anecdote central idea metaphor memoir mood point of view/perspective prologue simile structure

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 6th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Notes for Teachers

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  • We are very mindful of the fact that this unit barely scratches the surface of this topic. There are so, so many extraordinary, diverse artists—both female-identified and non-binary—that we could have chosen to feature. And there are so many different types of art that we could have studied! By focusing just on ballet and the visual arts (and just on Americans working in the last fifty years), we have had to omit the vast majority of art forms and art makers.
  • We are particularly aware that this unit is lacking representation of openly queer, trans, non-binary, disabled, and neuro-diverse artists. We strongly encourage you to supplement this unit with artists whose work speaks to you, whose identities mirror your students’, and who raise different questions about the purpose and impact of art.
  • Be aware that this unit discusses some difficult topics. Life in Motion includes descriptions of domestic violence, eating disorders, and the N-word. The lesson on Favianna Rodriquez briefly discusses abortion and reproductive rights. You may want to inform parents and school support staff when these topics will be discussed.

Fishtank ELA Connections

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Lesson Map

12

Writing

    SL.6.2

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

    W.6.1.b

Analyze the development of mood in dance performance.

19

Writing

    L.6.1

    L.6.1.a

    W.6.2

Brainstorm questions and determine individual responsibilities.

23

2 days

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.6.1

L.6.1.a

L.6.5

L.6.5.a

RI.6.2

RI.6.3

RI.6.4

RI.6.5

RI.6.7

RI.6.9

SL.6.1

SL.6.1.a

SL.6.1.c

SL.6.2

SL.6.3

SL.6.4

SL.6.5

W.6.1

W.6.1.a

W.6.1.b

W.6.2

W.6.2.a

W.6.2.b

W.6.7

W.6.8

Supporting Standards

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L.6.1.b

L.6.2

L.6.2.b

L.6.3

L.6.3.a

L.6.3.b

L.6.5.b

L.6.5.c

L.6.6

RI.6.1

RI.6.10

RI.6.6

SL.6.1.b

SL.6.6

W.6.1.c

W.6.1.d

W.6.1.e

W.6.10

W.6.2.c

W.6.2.d

W.6.2.e

W.6.2.f

W.6.4

W.6.5

W.6.6

W.6.9

W.6.9.b