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McREL Standards Activity

Reflections of Hunger and Poverty: the Works of Lange, Kollwitz, and Orozco

Purpose:Through the photographs and artworks of Dorothea Lange, Kathe Kollwitz, and Jose Clemente Orozco, students should arrive at a greater appreciation of the widespread hunger and poverty of the Great Depression.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
World History
 Standard 40.Understands the search for peace and stability throughout the world in the 1920s and 1930s
   Level III [Grade 7-8]
   Benchmark 7. Understands the reflections of Depression-era hunger and poverty in the works of such artists as Käthe Kollwitz, José Clemente Orozco, and Dorothea Lange, and their impact upon society
Visual Arts
 Standard 4.Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
   Level III [Grade 5-8]
   Benchmark 2. Understands the historical and cultural contexts of a variety of art objects
Language Arts
 Standard 8.Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
   Level III [Grade 6-8]
   Benchmark 6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
Language Arts
 Standard 8.Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
   Level III [Grade 6-8]
   Benchmark 7. Uses appropriate verbal and nonverbal techniques for oral presentations (e.g., inflection/modulation of voice, tempo, word choice, grammar, feeling, expression, tone, volume, enunciation, physical gestures, body movement, eye contact, posture)
Student Product:Class discussion, followed by the creation of a travel brochure illustrating the common suffering of residents in countries impacted by the Great Depression
Material & Resources:Art books may be helpful--especially if internet access is limited in one’s area.  However, websites that provide virtual exhibitions of the various artists’ works would be more helpful.  Some possible sites include:
the artcyclopedia which includes a list of links, California State University Library, and Oakland Museum of California
Teacher's Note:This activity should be included in a unit on the global impact of the Great Depression.  It also assumes that students will be at least somewhat familiar with three very different political systems and cultures (the United States, Nazi Germany, and post-revolutionary Mexico)
The Great Depression was a worldwide global economic depression that took a toll on the economies of most of the world’s countries.  The poor were among the hardest hit by the Great Depression, and in countries all over the world hunger and hardship became the norm.  The works of Kathe Kollwitz, a German artist, Dorothea Lange, and American photographer, and Jose Clemente Orozco, a Mexican artist, all provide a window into the commonplace suffering of the Great Depression.  Kollwitz, who lost a son in World War I, a grandson in World War II, and was denounced by the Nazis, portrays a bleak human existence in her work, an existence marked by suffering and death.  Likewise, much of Orozco’s work illustrates violence and hardship visited upon the powerless by an often degenerate ruling class.  Lange’s photographs, paid for by the federal government’s Farm Securities Administration, capture the suffering of Americans in the Great Depression. Taken as a whole these works illustrate the common suffering of many of the world’s people in the 1930s.

Have students view examples of the work of these artists on-line or in books.  Encourage the students to critique the works using critical thinking skills and their knowledge of the Great Depression gleaned from a unit of study on the event.  The instructor will want to ask students questions about these works.  Such questions may include:
    "What is implied in these works?"  "What is the artist reacting to?"  "What do you think is the political affiliation of the artist?"  "For whom did the artist create this work--the government, no one in particular, a revolutionary resistance movement, etc.?"  "Are the images accurate representations of life in these countries during the Great Depression?"  "Are the images meant to capture a literal event or to imply an allegorical meaning?"

After discussing these issues, have the students work alone or in groups to create a colorful travel brochure that compares life in Mexico, Germany, and the United States during the Great Depression.  The students should comment on living conditions, the political systems and relief efforts, and his/her general impressions of each country.  This brochure should reflect the students’ impressions of the work of the artists, but also draw heavily on themes and information learned in the more general lesson on the Great Depression.  The instructor should have the students present their finished products to each other and explain their intent.