Learn about one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century with these Jasper Johns Art Projects for Kids! Like he said, it’s a poor life without art!
“To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.” ~ Jasper Johns
Among the first things we learn in life are the letters of the alphabet, and numbers from one to ten. Most often we learn them even before we enter school, making them a part of very early education at home. At first glance, this picture below may look like the alphabet, all laid out in order. That’s the obvious part – now look closer.
As you study the painting, you’ll find that each letter isn’t painted in a single color – there are splashes of colors all over. The more you look at the painting, the more scattered it appears, and the more distracted you get. You’ll also see that all the rows except the second has 5 letters each, although it slyly makes you think that it’s a symmetrical grid. Suddenly, it’s no longer a simple series of letters – it’s much more complex than that. And that, my friends, is the magic of a Jasper Johns painting!
Jasper Johns is a familiar name in America – he is one of the most important American artists, along with names like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In fact, the New York Times has named him the ‘foremost living artist’ of the United States. He has also been awarded numerous times, including getting the Presidential medal from Barack Obama. Now that is no small honour!
Like the painting above, Johns’ work focuses on familiar objects, ‘things the mind already knows’. As a result, a lot of his work features letters of the alphabet, numbers, primary colors and patriotic symbols like the American flag and maps. The subjects of his paintings may seem simple but these seemingly ‘simple’ subjects are no less than precious gems – Jasper Johns is considered the 30th most valuable artist in the world! Apparently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York paid a whopping $20 million for his painting titled ‘The White Flag’!
Since May is the artist’s birthday month, we think it’s a fitting tribute to celebrate with some Jasper Johns art projects for kids! Kids will enjoy using familiar motifs like numbers and letters, and they can learn to use color and texture to add complexity to their work. Go ahead and enjoy!
10 Jasper Johns Art Projects for Kids
Jasper Johns was an artist who used several techniques in both his paintings and his sculptures. For his work titled ‘Fragment of a Letter’, he took a letter from Vincent van Gogh, pressed part of it into wax and then spelled it out using American sigh language with stamps he DIYed himself. How amazing is that! While not that intricate, Woo Jr. shows us how to use various brush strokes to create a complex structure from a single letter of the alphabet.
Jasper Johns put in a lot of effort in creating his art works, giving familiar motifs several levels of depth. For instance, for his famous painting of the Flag, he dipped pieces of newspaper in a medium called encaustic and used them in his painting so that you can still see bits of it peeking through the wax. You can try out our own STEAM inspired Jasper Johns art with this project from the Nurture Store.
Johns was friends with many artists, one of whom was Robert Rauschenberg, who also became his partner. Rauschenberg was painting a series that was largely monochromatic and when Jasper Johns visited his studio, he was amazed at all that he saw. He was completely taken in by the images of flags, numbers and alphabets. He burnt all his previous art and the rest, as they say, is history! Pink Stripey Socks attempts a recreation of Johns’ famous ‘Alphabet’, using watercolors in broad brush strokes.
Jasper Johns wasn’t just a painter, he was also a sculptor and print maker. That’s not all, he was the artistic advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and has also written lyrics for a band named ‘The Druds’. He has even made a guest appearance on ‘The Simpsons’ TV show! Because of his general interest in the arts, Johns was one of the founders of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York City. Art Campla celebrates the various faces of Jasper Johns in this mixed media collage art that’s perfect for New Years.
Debra Pearlman brings us a lovely book that is perfect to introduce kids to the renowned American artist. The book features lots of pictures of the artist’s work, along with the background for each painting. What’s more, this book also helps us understand the interpretation of Johns’ work, and is a great tool to help kids appreciate art better.
The American flag is a key component of many Jasper Johns paintings, and there are many interpretations as to why this is so. One suggestion is that it’s because the artist is named after an American Revolutionary War hero, Sergeant William Jasper, who raised the flag during battle. Kids Art Market helps us recreate one of Johns’ most iconic flag paintings, ‘Three Flags’, where each flag is 25% smaller than the one behind it.
We love this collaborative art work by Cassie Stephens’ art class! It reminds us of the huge 9×7 ft piece called ‘Numbers’ by Jasper Johns, displayed at the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center. The entire work is actually a grid of separate pieces, and is believed to be the only one of its kind by Jasper Johns.
This art lesson by Art History Kids is based on Jasper Johns’ popular ‘Flag’ painting. Johns said that he had a dream of the flag one night, and he woke up the next morning and immediately set out to buy the materials to paint it! Since then, he has painted over forty versions of the American flag. Some museums have even hesitated to display them, fearing attacks from patriotic groups!
In many of his alphabet and number paintings, Jasper Johns used readymade stencils. However, the way he used those stencils is interesting. He often mixed and matched colors and stencils to create an intriguing composition. For instance, in his painting ‘False Start’, he painted the word ‘Red’ in orange, on a background of yellow, creating a purposeful disconnection between the word and its color. Mrs. T’s First Grade Class takes this principle and makes it more tuned towards early learners by using word ladders in a grid format.
Along with painting and scupting, lithography or print making was another of Jasper Johns’ loves. He has made numerous lithographs, and has also released a book that features many of his etchings. His lithographs cover familiar topics like flags and maps. Paintbrush Rocket shows us how to make a numeric print by printing from Styrofoam, creating a new technique all on its own.
Jasper Johns wasn’t a rebel, but he wasn’t a conformist either. He believes that “Art is either a complaint or appeasement.” For example, seeing a flag can instill patriotic feelings in some people, while it can be triggering for others. This was one reason some museums found them too controversial to display. However, Johns believed that all he was painting was a fact – it was up to the viewer to interpret it to his or her own liking. This is a great message to communicate to kids today, and to help them appreciate art in a deeper way. You can also pique their interest with the story about how art critics asked Johns if his flag art was a painted flag or a flag painting. Johns reply that it was both can lead to some serious brain exercise, even for adults!