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Lesson Plans
Portrait of the Artist
Georgia O'Keeffe
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all sites mentioned above for the students' use. Take the time to CUE all of your videotapes to the first viewing segment on each tape. Photocopy the Internet Activity sheet for each student. Please go through the instructions from the student material handouts as a student would to make sure you are familiar with the materials prior to class use.
When using media, always provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after the viewing of video segments, Web sites, and/or other multimedia elements.
Introductory Activities: Setting the Stage

In art, you will frequently find the same subject treated in different styles and forms by a variety of artists. In this activity you will be taking prepared images and altering them using the Adobe PhotoShop software provided by your instructor.

Below is a step-by-step listing of how you may access and work with images in Adobe PhotoShop. Please follow the steps in order. Do not skip instructions. This activity is designed to introduce you to PhotoShop and abstract art.
  1. Open the Adobe Photoshop application.

  2. Use your mouse cursor to select <File>

  3. Select <Open>

  4. Select <Goodies>

  5. Select <Samples>

  6. Select <Southwest>

  7. Notice the black and white picture that has appeared on your screen. Look at the tool bars to the right of the screen. In the area marked History you will now see a thumbnail of the picture and its title with an open tab. In the Layers toolbar you will see a thumbnail with the designation background. Watch what happens in the toolbars to the right as you work on this picture to make it your own.

  8. Look to the left of the screen and click on the Lasso tool to activate it. Carefully move the cursor to the portion of the picture you wish to change and outline it with the tool. (To complete this action you must use the click-and-drag motion to make a completely enclosed figure around the area you are interested in.) You might want to start with the sky at the top of the picture.

  9. You may wish to enlarge the picture to allow for more accurate outlining. You can do this by going to the <Image>, <Image size>, print size keys. Type in a larger number for one dimension and then make sure that the Maintain Proportions selection has been checked before clicking OK.

  10. Click on the Paint Bucket tool, move your cursor over to the Color Toolbox at the right, and select the color you wish to use for the area you have outlined. A small eyedropper will appear over the color selection bar. Click on the color to be used. Move the cursor back to the picture over the lasso-outlined area and click again to place the color.

  11. You can experiment with changing proportions and get back your original image by alternating between this procedure and using <Edit>, <Undo> to achieve your designed image size and shape.

  12. Complete your desired changes and note the running history tab to the right.

  13. PhotoShop keeps track of your work. Save your picture to a floppy or CD.

  14. Now open CMYK balloon image from the goodies/sample file.

  15. Use the Lasso tool to select the small red and blue balloon found at the upper right center of the picture. Go to <Edit>, <Copy>. Click the Arrow tool with the cross in the square and then use <Edit>, <Paste> to create another image of the balloon in the picture.

  16. You will need to go back to the Arrow tool in the left hand toolbar to be able to move this new image. You may click on the new balloon with the Arrow tool and move it wherever you wish. You may also use the Lasso and Color tools to alter the balloon colors as you practiced in the beginning of this activity.

  17. Now copy your customized balloon into the picture "Southwest," using the Copy and Paste tools.

  18. SAVE your work to a floppy disk.
By using these simple tools and steps students can alter any picture to make it their own!

The question to ask students is – is this ART? Let's take a look at how a famous American modern artist decided for herself what art is.

Learning Activities

Step 1:

Place the tape American Masters: Georgia O'Keeffe in your VCR and make sure it is CUED to the end of the introductory credits. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to list on a piece of paper the basic shapes they observe or into which shapes they could break the major forms of the four pictures they are about to see. START the tape and run through the visual of the second picture containing a skull when Georgia O'Keeffe says, "...sometimes I know what it comes from and sometimes I don't." STOP the tape, and CHECK for comprehension. (Rectangles, curved lines, coiled spirals, triangles.) Do not provide your students with the answers. Ask if they would like to go back and see the pictures again. REWIND and REPLAY the segment they have just seen. PAUSE the tape at each new picture. To CHECK for their comprehension of the question, place a piece of clear overhead acetate or heavy-duty Saran Wrap over the screen of the monitor. Have student volunteers come up and use dry-erase markers to draw the simple shapes they see in the work. Remove each shape layout and replace with a new piece of acetate. These "layouts" may be taped to the wall for later use in discussing composition, style, and symmetry.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to write down why they think Ms. O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico and spent so much of her artistic career in the southwest. CHECK to make sure that each student has a predicted answer before proceeding with the program. START the tape and run through the visual of Ms. O'Keeffe saying, "I shouldn't say too much, others may get interested." STOP the tape and CHECK for student comprehension by surveying your students' answers. (Privacy, solitude for work, vast landscapes, can see far distances in the clear air, it was different – the sky and stars!)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them how they think a lone woman was able to paint the landscapes of vast areas of the southwest in the early part of the twentieth century. PLAY the tape through the picture of a tree against a red washed background. O'Keeffe will have just stated, "I could use a great big canvas, 30" x 36" or 30" x 40". PAUSE the tape to CHECK for student comprehension. (She used a Model A Ford to drive out into the desert and act as her studio, protecting her from the elements. She painted in the rear seat looking through the large windows of the car.)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them where Georgia O'Keeffe lived while she was in New Mexico. Why did she stay there? START the tape and PLAY through the visual of two figures walking against a mesa landscape. The male narrator will be saying, "...she was a very private person about her work." STOP the tape. Discuss your students' answers and refer back to the previous questions about why she went west to work. (Responses may include: she was searching for subjects to form her own style around; she needed the solitude; it was open space where she could work without outside distractions or pressures.)

Step 2:

FAST FORWARD the tape to Georgia O'Keeffe stating, "...if the color isn't absolutely right..." immediately after pictures of a young man using a paper cutter to crop prints of her pictures is shown. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them why they think there are so many bones in Ms. O'Keeffe's paintings. What do they think the bones mean? PLAY the tape through the visual of Georgia O'Keeffe moving a spine in light to study shadows. PAUSE the tape. Poll the class to CHECK for student comprehension. (There were no flowers out there. She wanted to take something home to work on from her walks. She liked the shapes.)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by having them write Georgia O'Keeffe's response to the young modern movement about the great American novel/play/everything. PLAY the program through Georgia O'Keeffe saying, "I don't think anyone caught on for quite a while." STOP the tape and discuss her reaction to their movement. (She took a painting of a white skull painted on blue and placed a red stripe on either side of the picture. The young men had never even been west of the Mississippi for the most part. She was laughing at them.)

Step 3:

At this point you may wish to distribute the O'Keeffe Internet Activity handouts so that the students can do some preliminary work before proceeding with the remainder of the video. If you are short of computer access, divide the class into two groups (stations) and have one proceed with the video and the other work on the Internet, then switch.
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them where Georgia studied art. Do they think it was common for women of that time period to become professionals in any field? PLAY the tape through the visual of women sketching a male model. PAUSE the tape to discuss your students' reactions. (Georgia started art lessons at home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and continued her studies at boarding school, at the Art Institute in Chicago and at the Art Students League in New York. It was not common for women to take professional degrees other than teacher or nurse in those days. Georgia would later spend time as an art instructor in the south and southwestern United States.)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to find out what the main school of art was at the time Georgia was studying. START the tape and PLAY through the picture of the nude woman with three cherubs. The narrator at this point will be saying, "...very realistic or very idealistic." PAUSE the tape to allow for student discussion of their answers. (Realistic or idealistic. Subjects were usually very stylized settings and landscapes were almost photographic in their realism.)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTIONby asking them why they think someone as talented as Georgia O'Keeffe would quit art for a period of time and then totally change her style. PLAY the program through the visual of Ms. O'Keeffe sitting and talking about how she had, "never been taught any way of her own. " STOP the tape. Discuss your students' responses and their ideas about how art is taught. Can you really teach art or just the effective use of the medium being used? (She had never been taught a way of her own. She was taught to paint like someone else and did not see any purpose to it, as she would never be as good as that person. What was the point? She needed to develop her own style.)

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to listen for the basis of her change in style. START the tape and PLAY the program through the visual of an abstract charcoal drawing with Georgia O'Keeffe stating, "I wonder if I'm a raving lunatic for trying to make these things." STOP the tape to discuss the changes in her style noted by your class. List them on the board as they answer. (Color, shape, the Japanese concept of notan – covering the paper with a pleasing shape or design. She went back to working in charcoal and black paint – no color – to achieve mastery of shape form, composition of her style before adding color. When she could no longer express her art with black alone, she added very pure hues, one or two at a time. She worked to simplify natural objects to their basic forms – to isolate and focus on one specific object or shape – like the "Jack in the Pulpit" series of flowers which culminated in just the tiny Jack portion of the flower enlarged to fill a canvas.)

You may wish to have your students complete the Internet activity as a homework assignment. If you choose to make this a homework assignment, please hold a short discussion in class before assigning this activity. You will need to introduce the concepts of symmetry, composition, texture, use of color, and notan. In addition to completing the activity, each student will need to bring in pictures of objects or landscapes they feel are important to their individual life. It is recommended that you give the assignment to take pictures or find pictures at least one week in advance in order to ease the completion of this unit. These pictures may be hard copies or digital. If the students bring in photos taken with standard format cameras, you will need to have them scanned into digital form for use in the final portion of this lesson. They are necessary for the completion of the Culminating Activity.

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

In this activity, students will be asked to scan their images into digital format, then use the Adobe PhotoShop software to compose a landscape type picture of themselves as the young artist. They may crop, cut and paste, enlarge or shrink, colorize, and sharpen or blur the images to create a unique work of art for this project.

Students should pay careful attention to the basic shapes and composition of their "portrait." They might want to try some of the special effects found in the toolbar at the top of the PhotoShop page. Make sure that they save their work frequently as separate files so that they can go back to a step prior to a change they may not like. Once they save an image, they cannot go back and use the Edit-Undo option to restore the original image. Be sure they do not save any changes to their original images so that they can try different compositions.

Students should print their final composition and complete the questions below.

Title of the Work:


  1. What are the two/three major images found in the portrait?

  2. Why are these objects significant to you as an individual?

  3. What basic shapes do you find yourself most drawn toward?

  4. Do you prefer symmetrical or asymmetric compositions? Why?

  5. What is the significance of your choice of color scheme for this work?

  6. What use of "white space" do you make in this work?

  7. Did you choose to enlarge any images used in this work? If so, which images and why?

  8. How would you describe the style you have used to create this work?

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

Distribute individual copies of modern paintings from a variety of artists to the class in a random manner. Have each student take his/her painting and write a journal entry describing the artist's use of color, shape, and composition in the work.

Have students read any one of the biographies available about Georgia O'Keeffe, Rodin, Mary Cassatt, Picasso, Henri Moore, Jackson Pollock, or Calder. Write a two-page synopsis of the artist's major contribution to the development of modern art.

Have students select music that they feel is appropriate to the tone and mood of a given work of modern art. Ask them to record the music as background to their interpretation of the artwork.

Have students research some of the technological developments that brought about changes in the world of art. Pigment development, photography, and new media such as acrylics are possible topics.

Community Connections
  • Have students predict the impact of technology on their future as artists. Have them place their ideas in a time capsule to be opened in ten years by another class to see if their predictions have come true.

  • Have students contact and or visit a local artist. Invite the artist into class for a short discussion period and/or demonstration of their work.

  • Have students try to make a community portrait of their class or school using the images they started with for the Culminating Activity. Use iron-on transfer paper to create t-shirts with the class portrait on them.