Teaching to Standards: Apache Children Respond to Keith Haring's Art: "Looks like a Smiling Dragon; a Dancer in the Middle of a Fire; No, It's a Sacred Ceremony; a Monster Eating a Person; a Human Spider; a Scared Man with No Legs, and a Man Escaping from the Square."

By Stokrocki, Mary; Buckpitt, Marcia | School Arts, November 2001 | Go to article overview
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Teaching to Standards: Apache Children Respond to Keith Haring's Art: "Looks like a Smiling Dragon; a Dancer in the Middle of a Fire; No, It's a Sacred Ceremony; a Monster Eating a Person; a Human Spider; a Scared Man with No Legs, and a Man Escaping from the Square."


Stokrocki, Mary, Buckpitt, Marcia, School Arts


Apache children were responding to reproductions of Keith Haring's paintings. Haring's work is simple yet provocative for children, so he seemed an appropriate artist to study in our summer school computer art program. We had three major goals related to state and national standards: to use art as inquiry to learn about a famous artist; to understand art in context by examining artworks from the twentieth century; and to understand art as a form of communication by engaging in art criticism.

Engaging in Art Criticism

We asked students to choose their favorite Haring paintings and write down reasons for their choices, encouraging them to describe the colors, lines, or patterns in their reasons. Some students gave such reasons as bright and warm colors, dancing shapes, squiggle lines, and crazy patterns. They described the images with such phrases as "a spider climbing," "a half person and half fish," or "monkeys dancing."

All students classified the artworks as imaginary. One student used the term cartoon-like. None of the students, however, considered Haring's images to be beautiful. A sixth grader described one of Haring's paintings as a "sitting person with hands up" and another saw the work as "a man looking scared who is trying to escape."

Using Art as Inquiry

We explored information about Haring on the Internet. Students were surprised to find his picture as a young boy, to learn that his father made cartoons, and to read that Haring made stories and cartoons ever since he was young. In one of Haring's artist statements, he reflected: "The reality of art begins in the eyes of the beholder, through imagination, invention, and confrontation. To find hope and beauty in the midst of oppression and struggle is certainly a challenge but also carries the greatest rewards!"

Considering Art in Context

Students learned that Haring was a twentieth-century Pop Artist, which means that he used popular subjects (such as cartoon characters) and commonly known symbols (hearts, dogs, human figures).

After moving to New York City, he was influenced by its bright colors, bold advertisements, and commercial media. Times Square once featured his radiant child symbol on a dynamic neon billboard: a 30-second animated drawing that repeated every 20 minutes, once a month.

Art as a Form of Communication

Students learned that Keith Haring was determined to bring art to the people.

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Teaching to Standards: Apache Children Respond to Keith Haring's Art: "Looks like a Smiling Dragon; a Dancer in the Middle of a Fire; No, It's a Sacred Ceremony; a Monster Eating a Person; a Human Spider; a Scared Man with No Legs, and a Man Escaping from the Square."
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