Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture



First Advisor

Nadia McDonald

Second Advisor

Kelly Scheffer

Third Advisor

Maxwell Dunbar


The Modern Artist’s Psyche: Making Meaning in Art Through History provides a way for students to study and analyze works by Modern artists that explore themes like loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and despair. By studying these artists and their works, students learn about topics like art appreciation and psychoanalysis; specifically, how each artist used their mental state to create their visual products. Students learn about art appreciation through the process of discussing and answering questions about specific art works. Students also study the concept of psychoanalysis, relating to theories and techniques that have been used by Modern artists. This connects to the concept of the unconscious mind and mental states. Pedagogy is a large focus for this project, including how different teaching strategies are used to engage students in meaningful discussions around famous artists’ works and their own visual compositions.

The Modern art unit, taught in my classroom setting to seventh and eighth graders, presents a new and creative way to teach about the Modern artist’s psyche. It allows students to make connections by participating in discussions, written responses, and by creating their own compositions that represent their own life experiences and emotions. This is important because it builds confidence, creativity, and exploration in the art classroom. These feelings and processes are expressed through topics that are easy for individuals to relate to, but especially for those coming from hardship or trauma.

This can be a great unit to teach to any demographic of student, but it is especially impactful for the kids I work with. This is because many of the kids I work with have been through trauma of some kind. The art unit is a way for them to express some of these experiences that they have had through visuals. I work at a charter public school in the city of St. Louis in the state of Missouri. I work with mostly African American students, with a portion of families that are considered low income. I know from experience and from working with the same kids for multiple years that I have students that have been through trauma and have been through things that I never had to go through as a child, like homelessness and losing a loved one to violence. Middle school kids go through a hard time while developing and going through the stages of adolescence. Kids get bullied and it can be hard to be confident in a pool of so many other individuals. Art and expression are ways for students to express these moments in time and emotions that they feel. Any student, even those that have not been though as much hardship and trauma, can create art for a unit.

There are different components of the project and art unit. These include the visual presentation shown in the art classroom, artist fact sheets, discussions, student rubrics, teacher exemplars, writing assignments, and visual products that students will create connected to the focus themes. The visual presentation includes the four exemplary artists, Edward Hopper, Norman Lewis, Pablo Picasso, and Leonora Carrington. It includes background information about each artist and three paintings that focus on the themes of study. These four artists were chosen not just because they are Modern artists who deal with the themes, but because they are diverse and show the themes in different ways. They have different backgrounds and experiences with trauma and show their mental state through visuals. They are artists that hopefully students can relate to, and they all use different techniques to create their work. When students create their own visuals using the themes in the classroom, they can refer to the artists for inspiration, and this allows for the opportunity to make art from different movements.

This project provides art teachers with an opportunity to teach about Modern artists in a new way while using scholarly research, psychoanalysis, and pedagogy to make deeper connections in the visual world.