Activity: Finding Rhythms in Art and Music

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Stuart Davis celebrated the modernization of American cities and the pulse of urban life in the first half of the 20th century. Music was a strong influence, especially the improvisational rhythms of jazz. Paintings like Composition Concrete show his unique style which combined abstract shapes, patterns, and bold, flat areas of color that repeat in almost endless variety across the canvas. What kinds of shapes and colors can you combine to express the music you like?

Combined abstract shapes and patterns and bold, flat areas of color repeat throughout the canvas
Stuart Davis; Composition Concrete, 1957; Carnegie Museum of Art: Gift of H. J. Heinz Company. © 2020 Estate of Stuart Davis / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

See & Think

  • What are some things you notice about the shapes in this painting?
  • Look for places where the shapes seem to overlap. How about places where they seem to intersect and change color where they meet?
  • Select one shape like the triangle or the circle and see how many places you find it repeated in various sizes or directions. Where do you see straight lines, and where are there curves?
  • Davis limited his painting to just four colors—what are they? How would the painting feel different if it was entirely black and white?
  • If Davis had been listening to music when he made this painting, do you think it would have been loud or soft? Fast or slow? Why do you think that?

Do: Make an Abstract Artwork Inspired by a Favorite Song

Materials needed: paper, scissors, construction paper or magazines, glue stick

  1. What music inspires you? What is your favorite song right now? Think of this song’s rhythms – are they fast or slow? Is the song loud or soft?
  2. What shapes and colors come to your mind as you hear your favorite song? Geometric and hard-edge shapes? Or curving organic shapes? Are the colors bright and bold? Or perhaps softer shades?
  3. Select four colors that describe your favorite song. Cut shapes in these colors from construction paper or find large blocks of those colors in magazines.
  4. Thoughtfully arrange your shapes on your paper while listening to your song, thinking about patterns, juxtapositions of colors, and overlapping. Experiment with different compositions before gluing down!