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Harlem Renaissance: Style and Subject

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Language Arts And English +3 Age Level High School (16 to 18 years old)

This collection is meant to be used as an introductory activity to the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Specifically, it focuses on the different styles employed by artist Aaron Douglas, most notably in his Scottsboro Boys portrait and in his 1925 self-portrait. In doing so, it asks students to consider when and why an artist who is more than capable of creating within the boundaries of classically beautiful art or writing might chose to create in this style at some times and at other times to create in more radical or avante-garde styles. It uses a Compare and Contrast looking technique before revealing to students that all four distinct pieces are created by the same artist. 

Ideally, teachers can end the unit by facilitating discussion of the social change Douglas aims for with his Scottsboro portrait and of the bridge that Hurston creates with her prose narrator before launching into the dialect of her characters that earned her such scorn from the African American community of her era.

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.

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