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Art and Artists
 Africa, Sierra Leone
 Chuck Close
 James Ensor
 Frank Gehry
 Robert Gwathmey
 Marsden Hartley
 Pepón Osorio
 James Rosenquist
 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Ernest Whiteman
Discussion Questions/Activities

What does this image communicate about the personal and cultural identity of the artist? What has the artist done to get his message across? Why might it be important to Whiteman to study and make contemporary art based on the traditional images of his culture?

Ernie Whiteman wanted his figure to represent both the rain and the harvest. How has he represented rain? The harvest? Which parts of the figure have been emphasized to represent these elements? Which parts of the figure have been simplified or left out? Why do you think Whiteman chose not to include many realistic details?

Whiteman, Untitled
Ernest Whiteman, Untitled

How did Whiteman use color, shape, and texture to create a feeling of the natural environment? Why do you think he chose to use unnatural materials to communicate the importance of the natural environment? What did he do to the materials to give them a more organic feeling?

Neon and steel are also very modern materials. Why do you think Whiteman chose such modern materials to depict ancient traditional images? How would this sculpture appear to be different without the neon light?

Balance between the natural world, animals, and humans is an important part of many Native American traditions. Balance between past and present is also personally important to Whiteman. In what way does this sculpture reflect these ideals?

Before the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans passed their history and traditions from one generation to the next through the spoken word. Imagine that you had no written language. How would you record things that were important to you?

Who Am I?
Whiteman uses a combination of images, symbols, and materials to convey important ideas about his cultural and personal identity. Think about what things are important to your cultural or personal identity. What makes you the person you are? What important events in your life or in history have helped shape your identity? Interview your parents or a relative about your family history. What role do personal or cultural celebrations play? How do your relationships with other people and the environment around you effect your outlook on life? Create a sculpture which conveys something about who you are, either personally or culturally . Think carefully about the materials you choose. How do they reflect your ideas? What kind of feeling or mood is created by the texture or color of the material. What kinds of images or symbols might be used to allude to important ideas or events?

For Further Study . . .
Read the Goast Horse Cycle series of books by Jamake Highwater, a contemporary Native American writer. These books include: Legend Days, The Ceremony of Innocence, and I Wear the Morning Star. In this series, a young artist learns about his past through his grandmotherís stories and engages in a search to discover the meaning of his heritage.

Gesture as Communication
Whiteman used the gestures of the figure to communicate the importance of the natural environment. Use gesture (no words) to communicate something which is important to you or to tell something about yourself. How do the movements you make communicate your ideas? Think about what kinds of movements can best communicate your ideas. Short and Quick? Long and sweeping? What feeling or mood do your movements create?

Everything Changes with Time
Whiteman purposely aged the steel on this sculpture to give it a natural feeling. Even in the controlled environment of the museum, the sculpture will slowly continue to rust and change. This slow deterioration, however, is part of the sculpture. As Whiteman says, "Everything in life deteriorates and changes." How do you think the sculpture would change if it were kept oudoors instead of in a museum? What effect does the environment have on materials such as steel or bronze? Have you ever seen a sculpture outside which has a green tint to it? Experiment with the effects of environmental elements on metal. How long does the rusting process take to begin in rain? How does humidity effect it? How does bright sun effect it? Why does salt water speed the rusting process? What other substances might speed this process?

Keeping the Balance
Research and write about the importance of the environment in contemporary American culture. Is keeping a balance with the earth something valued in the United States? How do goverment policies affect the environment in this country? What might you do to preserve the balance between what the earth gives you and what you take from it? What might you give back to the earth?

Petroglyphs and Rock Art
Research the possible meanings and importance of petroglyphs to ancient Native American peoples. What are some of the reasons that this information was not preserved? For more information and pictures of petroglyphs and other rock art, try looking up this site:


gesture - A motion of the body as a means of communication or expression.

organic - Relating to or derived from a living organism.

petroglyphs - An ancient carving or inscription in a rock.

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Discussion/Activities, About the Artist, About the Art, Teacher Lessons

Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons