Activity: Explore Diane Severin Nguyen’s Tyrant Star

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

We have a series of fun, family-friendly activities inspired by Diane Severin Nguyen’s Tyrant Star for you! Start by watching the video, and then follow along with these three activities to create your own artworks inspired by Tyrant Star.

Activity #1: Sound On

For many artists, art is more than a visual experience. Part of Diane Severin Nguyen’s artistic process is collecting sounds.

A reflection of a person looking into a mirror, their face partly obscured by a colorful smear on the glass
Diane Severin Nguyen, Tyrant Star (film still), 2019, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Rich Fund © Diane Severin Nguyen

Listen Closely

  1. Find a friend or family member and listen to the first few minutes of Tyrant Star. Make a list of all the sounds you hear.
  2. Repeat the first few minutes of the video and listen for sounds that you may have missed the first time.
  3. Add an adjective to the sounds you wrote down. For example: Cheerful chirping.
  4. Your turn! Spend some time listening in different spaces: in nature, your neighborhood, the kitchen, anywhere you like! Close your eyes to make your hearing senses more intense.
  5. Record the sounds you hear on a device and play them for a friend or family member. Ask them what they hear in your recording. What do they visualize with your sounds?

Activity #2: Barely Moving Image

Diane Severin Nguyen is making a transition to video art from photography to capture the nuances of a moving image.

Close up of bright stars suspended in gelatin and lit from behind
Diane Severin Nguyen, Tyrant Star (film still), 2019, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Rich Fund © Diane Severin Nguyen

Look Closely

  1. Spend a few minutes carefully observing the visual vignettes in Tyrant Star. Look closely for barely moving images, almost like photographs. What subtle movements do you notice?
  2. Rewatch the video and discover something that you have missed your first go around.
  3. Your turn! Spend 10 minutes inside or outside paying extra attention to what you see. Look for slight movements. What might be causing the slight movement you observe? To heighten your visual experience, try covering your ears.
  4. Videotape your favorite findings.
  5. Try to take a video of yourself. Be as still as possible for 10 seconds. What slight movements occurred with you or the background? Were they purposeful or accidental?

Activity #3: An Old Song

An important part of an artist’s process is thinking and responding to the world around them.  Diane Severin Nguyen also explores what the world was like for previous generations with images, text, and music.

A profile portrait of a person wearing large, bright headphones and standing in front of gauzy curtains with light seeping through
Diane Severin Nguyen, Tyrant Star (film still), 2019, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Rich Fund © Diane Severin Nguyen

Record Memories

  1. Consider the experience of someone older than you. Ask them about news stories that they vividly remember and ask them to tell you about one of their favorite songs from that moment in time.
  2. Find a cozy spot and have a conversation about their answers. Why was the news story important to them? How did it affect people living during that time? How did the song make them feel during that time?  
  3. Write down the song lyrics and record yourself or each other singing the lyrics of the song.
  4. Reflect on your cover of the song. Do the lyrics have a connection to the time the song came from? Did the meaning shift when listening to or performing it during this present time? Why or why not?

Activity: Explore Doug Aitken’s migration (empire)

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

We have a series of fun, family-friendly activities inspired by Doug Aitken’s migration (empire) for you! Start by watching the video, and then follow along with these three activities to create your own artworks inspired by migration (empire).

Activity #1: An Unfamiliar Place

The North American migratory animals in Doug Aitken’s video are exploring strange and unfamiliar habitats. Imagine what it’s like to explore a motel room from their point of view.

  • What might the horse think and see here?
  • How does the horse react to this motel room?
A horse stands in the middle of a motel room with the foot of the motel bed in the foreground, a TV mounted on the wall is playing footage of a horse running through a field 
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, film still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Go on an Adventure

  1. Choose a stuffed animal, toy, or imaginary friend who will explore your home.
  2. Invite them to experience environments and activities that are ordinary to you, and document their adventure with photographs or video.
  3. Put yourself in their hooves, claws, or paws, and imagine what they are thinking and seeing in this unusual place. How might they react to their new surroundings? You could invite them to partake in one of your hobbies or dinner with your favorite people!

Activity #2: Postcards From Somewhere New

The animals in Doug Aitken’s video are visiting places that are unknown to them. Imagine yourself in a place that is new to you, and make a postcard to share your experience with someone else!

A brown owl sits on a bed in a motel room, which is covered in feathers that float in the air around it
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, film still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Make a Postcard

  • Take a trip to a far-off land (real or imagined) and sketch a postcard of the place.
  • What do you envision in the foreground, middle ground, and background?
  • Add color!
  • On the back of the postcard, write a few sentences describing your experience. For instance: what is the weather? What does the landscape look like? Address your postcard to a friend or family member and add a stamp. Make sure to mail it!

Activity #3: Setting Your Own Scene

Artist Doug Aitken filmed migration (empire) in different motel rooms across the United States, showing how similar buildings can look in different places. Through his lens, the artist turned real motel rooms into different movie scenes by making decisions about lighting, furniture and object placement. His scenes provided intentional backgrounds for the animal characters to have experiences in their new environment. Consider the two different stills from the video below.

A deer rummages through a motel mini fridge
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, production still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Two white peacocks stand on a hotel bed, a lit table lamp is visible behind them
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, production still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Make Your Own Film Set

  1. Take a look around the room you’re currently occupying. Imagine you are turning your room into a movie scene.
  2. Take a moment to view the room from different locations. Kneel on the ground, stand on a chair, try a few angles. Select one angle of the room that you’d like to capture in your scene.
  3. Next consider the lighting in this space. How does the current lighting impact what you see? Experiment by turning on and off the lights or opening and closing blinds.
  4. When you’re ready, take a few photographs. Try a few shots until you get it just right!
  5. Look at your favorite photograph. What kind of movie is this scene from? Who would star in this movie? What kind of scene is happening in your space?
  6. Want to make more scenes? Repeat the activity and create your own series.

Share your postcards and photographs with us on social media and we might feature your creation!

Activity: Where Will You Go?

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Japanese artist Shiro Kuramata was trained as an architect and interior designer. Chairs might be the most common objects in our daily lives, yet this chair is quite unique. First, the artist has given his design a surprising name, How High the Moon. And while it is in the form of a soft, upholstered chair, consider the material he chose—steel mesh. What do you think about that decision? Sometimes material, function, and the title of a work of art can be clues to interpreting it. Imagine you’re taking a seat in How High the Moon. What kind of story can you imagine about this object? Where do you think this object might belong?

A wide armchair made of steel mesh
Shiro Kuramata, designer, Terada Tekkojo, Ltd., manufacturer; How High the Moon, 1986, manufactured 2000; Carnegie Museum of Art: Richard L. Simmons Acquisition Fund

See & Think

  • Look closely at How High the Moon and use descriptive words to explain out loud what you see.
  • Now try describing this object in writing or drawing. Have you noticed more details?
  • What are some ways the material of the chair is important? Do you imagine it would be substantial or flimsy? Why?
  • Are you sitting in a chair? How is your chair similar or different than How High the Moon?
  • Who do you imagine sitting in this chair?
  • Now speculate where might you find it—at home, school, or somewhere different?

Do: Design Your Own Chair

Materials Needed: paper, colored pencils, pencil

  1. Fold 8.5×11” paper in half. On the outside write your name, because you are the designer.
  2. On the front of the folded paper write descriptive words about the chair you are imagining.
  3. Open the folded paper and use a pencil to refine your sketch, maybe beginning to imagine the room or setting you see it fitting into.
  4. Flip the paper on the back. Using your accumulated ideas, write a 2-3 sentence story about who sits in the chair and where the chair is.

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!

Activity: Our City

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Snap! Photographs tell a story. Think about the last photograph you captured. Where were you standing compared to the location of the subject? Maybe you were on the ground or capturing the image from up high while looking down.

Margaret Bourke-White was a documentary photographer and one of the first American female war photojournalists. Bourke-White’s black and white photos tell powerful stories of people and places. Pittsburgh: Aerial View, Downtown, captures the city from a bird’s eye view. Today, let’s see like a bird who is flying high, and write a description of the world around us. First, imagine a location. Where are you flying high?

A black-and-white aerial photograph of the city of Pittsburgh looks down on a cluster of skyscrapers.
Margaret Bourke-White, (Pittsburgh: Aerial View, Downtown), 1956, Carnegie Museum of Art, © Margaret Bourke-White Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

See & Think

  1. Do you see anything familiar?
  2. Is there anything that tells you the world below you is quiet or loud?
  3. Bourke-White took her pictures in black and white. What color would you add to the view you are seeing in your imagination?
  4. What would you explain to the people below?
  5. Do: Describe Your Bird’s Eye View

    Materials Needed: paper, pencil, colored pencil

    • On a sheet of paper write your name in pencil.
    • Fold your paper in half (like a card).
    • On the outside of the paper use words to describe what you like about your city, neighborhood, or a place you can imagine. Think of some details you can see in your mind’s eye.
    • On the inside of the paper, write 2-3 sentences imagining what you would see if you were a bird flying over this place.
    • Now try sketching a detail or two. See if your family or friends can guess where you are!

Activity: Collect and Compose

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

The American photographer Emmet Gowin transforms the common moth into a riveting subject for a work of art. Gowin spent 15 years photographing more than 1,000 species of moths in South America. The visual thrill of the series is heightened when you learn that nearly all the specimens were photographed while they were alive! These moths only come out at night, so Gowin’s project is what allows us to discover and admire them. What seemingly unassuming subject could you turn into a captivating work of art?

Twenty-five photographs of moths are composed in a five –by-five grid.
Emmet Gowin, Index No. 40, January 2011, French Guiana, 2011, Carnegie Museum of Art, © Emmet Gowin

See & Think

Emmet Gowin says that his grids of moth portraits remind him of yearbook photos. What do you see that might make him say that? Why?

He painstakingly sequenced the grid of images by paying careful attention to rhythms of colors and shapes. What patterns do you see in his arrangement of individual moths? How would the work change if each “portrait background” was the same?

Do: Collect and Compose Objects

Materials Needed: At least 10 objects from your home or nature and something to photograph the objects with.

  • To find your subjects, either peruse your own collection of objects, or explore nature outside and assemble a new collection. Talk to a friend or grown-up to brainstorm ideas; perhaps they have collections you could work with.
  • Once you have at least 10 objects, thoughtfully arrange them. Gowin made each moth a unique element and arranged them in a grid considering colors, shapes, and sizes.
  • He gave each of his subjects their own background. Will you?
  • You could photograph each object separately, cut them out and then arrange. Or make one photograph of your entire composed collection.

Activity: Fame in Art and Social Media 

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Ed Paschke was an American artist known for making art about the famous and the infamous. Bold and sometimes shocking, he permitted his subjects to express their complex personalities. Paschke was a strong believer in the viewer’s capacity to interpret his works of art on their own terms. That is what we will do in this activity!

A man wearing a hat, long tunic, and large round tinted glasses looks directly ahead, arms raised and out of the frame. 
Ed Paschke; Kevin, 1976; Carnegie Museum of Art: Gift of Darthea Speyer. © Ed Paschke

See & Think

By looking closely at Paschke’s painting, we will delve into what kind of character Kevin may be.

  • Start out by describing what Kevin looks like. What is Kevin wearing? Be specific.
  • What do those details reveal about Kevin?
  • How would you describe Kevin’s facial expression and body language?
  • What might Kevin’s likes and dislikes include?

Do: Think About Kevin as an Influencer

Even before the advent of social media and the internet, Ed Paschke, the artist, was keenly aware of the impact the media had upon our own perception of ourselves and society.

  • Think of Kevin as an influencer on social media.
  • Use your character analysis answers from above to write a social media post as if you were Kevin in this painting.

Activity: Create Your Own Kaleidoscopic Artwork

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Beatriz Milhazes is a Brazilian artist who is known for her vibrant abstract paintings and prints. With circular geometric and ornamental shapes, her works seem kaleidoscopic. She is inspired by her physical surroundings and her personal cultural background. What will inspire you?

A brightly-colored artwork employs flowers and intricate patterns to create a kaleidoscopic effect.
Beatriz Milhazes; No Campo/On the Land, 1997; Carnegie Museum of Art: Purchase: gift of friends in honor of Barbara and Charles Miller. © Beatriz Milhazes

See & Think

Milhazes favors organized, repeating motifs in her designs. Take a look at the work above. In this case, she repeats concentric rings of circles. How many can you find? Describe each one and notice their similarities and differences.

Nature, and especially the botanical garden near her home, are important sources of inspiration for her. Where do you notice nature-inspired imagery in her work? Are they repeated?

Milhazes also looks to designs used in fashion and costumes for ideas. Does anything remind you of fabric patterns in this painting?

She combines imagery from many sources to create something new and interesting.

Do: Create Your Own Kaleidoscopic Artwork

Materials needed: paper, scissors, leaves or flowers, colorful paper, fabric, and glue

  • Find your references! Observe plants or flowers in your home or outside. Pick an interesting leaf, flower, or flower petal. You can pick one to take or sketch it.
  • Additionally, find a fun fabric pattern in your closet. Sketch a part of the fabric design.
  • Cut out many leaves or petal shapes based on your reference from colorful paper (magazines, origami paper, construction paper, etc).
  • Repeat this step with your fabric pattern inspiration! Consider different sizes and colors.
  • Combine these shapes as you create a composition on your paper by repeating patterns. Experiment with juxtaposing sizes and colors!
  • Try a few iterations before gluing your final design.

Activity: Recollecting with Hedda Stern

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Memory is a powerful force. This artist, Hedda Stern, painted memories of her home in Romania where she grew up and developed her passion for the arts. She covertly fled the Nazi Jewish round ups in 1940, going through Portugal, and made her way to New York City. Although she was able to escape the Nazis, she lost her home. To process and memorialize her past, she recreated her memories through her artwork.

In a large room, one man is seated, and a boy is standing facing him. Both figures are playing violins and a stand with sheet music is set up behind them.
Hedda Sterne, Violin Lesson, 1944, Carnegie Museum of Art

See & Think

This oil painting on canvas, Violin Lessons, is an example of Stern reflecting on a childhood memory. The figures are Stern’s brother and her brother’s violin teacher, and the artwork shows the importance of music education in her family’s Romanian home.


Materials Needed: Paper and something to write with (pencil, pen, etc.)

Creatively reflecting on our memories helps us process and reflect on our past. The human brain pieces together fragments to create a memory, and often the more time we take to reflect on past occurrences, the more fragments we pull together. In Violin Lessons, the violin plays a prominent role in Stern’s memory, as she has depicted a moment dedicated to mastering the instrument.

Like Stern and the violin, what object in your home can you use to pull together fragments of a memory? Take a few minutes and wander around your living space. Identify an object to explore. Find a pencil and paper and use the prompts below to guide your reflection:

  • In one sentence describe your very first encounter with this object.
  • Set a timer for 60 seconds. Quickly sketch this moment.
  • What primary purpose does this object serve in your life?
  • When you think about using this object for its primary purpose, is there one time that stands out? Make a list of adjectives to describe this instance.
  • Take your time and sketch this recollection. Having trouble recalling the entire scene? Ask yourself about who, what, where, when, why, and how to jog your brain.

Activity: Make Your Own Eames Chair

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames are known for the innovative plywood furniture they started making in the 1940s. The LCW, the design in our #chairchallenge, debuted in 1946.

Gather your materials and follow along with this video to make your own Eames chair!

  • Cardboard box
  • Cube shaped box
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Tape