Lesson + Activity: Exploring the Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat

I have been committed to teaching my kids about their cultural identity since birth, but now that they are 5 and 6, I want to teach them cultural awareness and respecting diverse cultures and beliefs.

So I was thrilled when I stumbled upon Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean- Michel Basquiat By Javan Steptoe. It is a beautifully told story of Basquiat’s childhood and rise to fame. Through the story, the author shares elements of Basquiat’s unique art style anchored in his life milestones. Even my youngest, age 5, was able to understand and appreciate.

One of Basquiat’s most iconic paintings is a dinosaur with a gold crown. He used a gold crown in much of his work. The back of the book beautifully states, “Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he will make himself a KING.” I decided to center the activity around this element of his work.

The rich back matter in the book discusses Baquiat’s use of crowns, which “represented power or strength, and he often “gave” crowns to others in his artwork as a sign of respect.” Steptoe wrote.

Our hands-on activity:

  • Reading Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe
  • Discussing symbols in Basquiat’s artwork and what they meant
  • Drawing our own dinosaur with crown
  • Creating symbols around the dinosaur to represent a feeling or feelings

As my children get older, there are many more layers to discuss in the book, such as Basquiat’s mother and his experience with mental illness, street art and graffiti, and complex social issues of the 60-80s.

Peace & Salam,

Natasha Kazi