Symbolic Portraiture

Artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hammons use abstract images or found objects (instead of realistic images) to make a portrait. Have students make a symbolic portrait, either of themselves or of a person in their family.

They should start by brainstorming objects that are important to their subject, words that describe the person, and places they associate with them.

Then, they should choose to make their portrait either a symbolic painting or a symbolic sculpture. Using their brainstormed objects, words, and places, they might start by sketching out ideas for how the composition will look—how they will place these symbols throughout the painting or sculpture.

Then, either by painting objects and symbols on a canvas or board or by using found objects for a sculpture, students can begin to create their artwork. 

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