Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Romare Bearden: Collage Rythms

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Romare Bearden, Serenade, 1969, collage and paint on panel.
Sample image
Sample image

Developed by Susan Young Hoffman, DeForest Area Schools, DeForest, Wisconsin

Summary of Activity

Through this lesson plan students analyze a collage by African American Romare Bearden, investigate the impact of jazz on art, and create an original collage.


To recognize rhythm in art, music, and poetry through the examination of collage and jazz.

Learning Objectives 

  • Students will recognize the use of line and space in a collage.
  • They will analyze a collage by Romare Bearden and create their own collages.
  • They will listen to jazz recordings with attention to emotional impact and respond creatively through art and poetry.
  • Older students will examine works of poetry from African American writer Langston Hughes, who was influenced by jazz, and create their own poems.


Romare (rõm-er-y) Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1912. When the family moved the New York, both parents were part of the group that formed the Harlem Renaissance. In the early 1940s Bearden met the artist Stuart Davis, who shared his love of jazz.

Bearden felt he lived in two worlds, that of the white, artistic avant-garde and that of the black, uptown culture of Harlem. Throughout his life he felt a strong desire to engage in social issues. Bearden was a philosopher, poet, musician (collaborating with Dizzy Gillespie), and visual artist, best known for his collage pieces. He did not consider himself an African-American artist, but, simply, an artist. He died in 1988.

Serenade, 1969, is one of at least four works by Bearden using the word "serenade" in its title.

As students enter the classroom have a jazz recording from the 1940s or 1950s playing (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, etc.). Ask students about the kind of music they listen to. Ask them to share what they know about jazz. Explain that they will be discussing an artist that was very influenced by the jazz he heard.


  1. Look at this picture closely. Now close your eyes. What do you remember? What features stand out? Who are these people? Where are they? What time of day is it? What sounds can you imagine as part of this picture? What title would you give this work of art? The word serenade means a song played to a sweetheart at night. Why do you think the artist calls this collage Serenade?
  2. The artist once described his work as "putting something over something else." The word collage comes from a French word meaning to paste or glue. What materials (media) did Bearden use to create this collage?
  3. What kinds of lines do you notice? How does this irregularity make you feel? What are the shapes?spaces?creating by the overlapping papers? How did the size (distortion) of some of the pieces affect what you remembered about the picture when you closed your eyes?
  4. Bearden was influenced by the jazz he heard. Both collage and jazz change the rhythm of the line and work outside the usual frame. There is not a right way to make jazz or a collage. Jazz has a syncopated rhythm-like a heartbeat. What is syncopated about this piece? Both collage and jazz disrupt the rhythm of the musical or visual line. How are the lines disrupted or broken in this piece?
  5. Both jazz and collage are considered improvisation, created spontaneously, on the spur of the moment, and noticeably by an individual or a group of individual performers, unlike an orchestra in which no individual performer stands out. How is the viewer aware of the hand of the artist? (How is this not like a realistic photograph?)
  6. What seems spontaneous about this picture? How does it seem like the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope? (Upper elementary, middle school, high school) Notice how the artist has depicted parts of the people and the furniture from different angles. Discuss how this Cubist technique forces you to look at the figures in a new way.
  7. (Upper elementary, middle school, high school) In what ways did the artist not follow strict rules about drawing? (flattened perspective brings the figures right up to us, abandonment of fixed perspective, head and hands too big, background and foreground merge and separate constantly).
  8. (Upper elementary, middle school, high school) Jazz musician Ben Sidran has said that collage and jazz are verbs, not nouns, and that in America history is made while you wait. Discuss newspapers as a daily kind of collage, combining articles about world events with comic strips and advertisement.
  9. (High school) Jazz is a "present-tense" music. What about Serenade makes it seem more "What's happening" than "What happened"?


Completed while students listen to jazz, such as Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" or Dizzy Gillespie's or Branford Marsalis's interpretation of "Seabreeze," written by Romare Bearden. Listen to music that has a strong beat or melody.

  1. (All grades) Jazz influenced Bearden's art. His compositions often were likened to jazz, with its syncopated rhythms and improvisational structures. Bearden created his collages about situations and people familiar to him.
  2. Think about someone you know and a familiar place. Sift through magazines, newspapers, and family memorabilia for images that remind you of an important event such as a birthday or a favorite family or bedtime story. Create a collage depicting that image.
  3. As you work, remember the effect that line and space has on the viewer. Like Bearden, create an image using fragments of images and shifts in scale to emphasize the important features of the event or story.
  4. Click here for a link to make a portrait collage online. Click here for tips and materials on creating a collage in the classroom.
  5. (All grades) Read aloud the picture book i see the rhythm by Michele Wood and Toyomi Igus (Children's book Press, 1998), Black Cat by Christopher Myers (Scholastic Press, 1999), Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney (Simon and Schuster, 1994), or Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka (Orchard Books, 1992). Experiment with different voices or rhythms.
  6. Click here for tips on combining art, writing, and rhythm.
  7. (All grades) Create a postcard. On one side use a collage to illustrate an event that happened to you. Keep in mind that making pictures is much more than sitting down and trying to copy something. On the other side write a poem describing the event using uneven rhythms and word patterns to express your emotions.
  8. (All grades) Although many quilts have regular patterns, many have been created to reflect individual tastes and personal rhythms. Create a jazz collage quilt with irregular lines and rhythm. Refer to the following websites:
    Quilts of Gee's Bend
    The Common Quilt
  9. (Upper elementary, middle school, high school) Write a poem using mostly verbs. Illustrate it.
  10. (Middle school, high school) Listen to a jazz tune several times. Create a collage that reflects the emotions the tune seems to convey.
  11. (Middle school, high school) The poet Langston Hughes also was influenced by the syncopated rhythms of jazz. Read aloud his poem "Weary Blues," using different rhythms or voices. Write a "Weary Blues" poem of your own, creating your own rhythms. Other poets you may wish to read are Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Brooks, or Nikki Giovanni.
  12. (High school) Research jazz during the Harlem Renaissance. Find a rhyme, rhythm, or use of language that reminds you of what you read?or create your own.


Helpful Websites

Romare Bearden
For hundreds of images of Bearden's work, go to Google, click on Images, and enter "Romare Bearden".

Romare Bearden Works
Romare Bearden's Life and Relationship with Jazz
Romare Bearden
Lesson plans with student work evaluation
Additional plans
Additional plans

Langston Hughes
"I, Too, Sing America"
"The Weary Blues"
"Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria"
"Langston Hughes: Poetry in Context"

For an outstanding bibliography of books related to jazz for students K-12, see http://www.ala.org/files/content/ala/booklinksbucket/jazzbooks.htm

Romare Bearden Revealed, music performed by Branford Marsalis (2003), CD Issued in Conjunction with The Art of Romare Bearden, a retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art
The Discovery Channel
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
PBS Jazz Series Website
The Smithsonian Institution
The Origins of Jazz

Quilts of Gee's Bend
Lesson plan

Rhythm in Art and Writing
Lesson plans for i see the rhythm
"To Make an African American Black, and Bid Him to Sing: African American Poetry for Children"

Children's books about African American artists and photographers such as Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, and Minnie Evans: "African American Painters and Photographers," Book Links, January 2003, p. 20.

Estes, Glenn. "The Harlem Renaissance and After," Book Links, January 1995, pp. 17-24.

Renwick, Lucille. "Learning With Jazz," Scholastic Instructor, January/February 2002.

SchoolsMuseumsART Project, A collaboration of Madison Metropolitan School District, Elvehjem Museum of Art, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002.

Sidran, Ben. "Reflections on the Parallels Between Jazz and Collage," lecture, given at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, June 2, 2003.

Children's Books
Bearden, Romare and Harry Henderson. A History of African American Artists. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

Brown, Kevin. Romare Bearden, Artist. Broomall: Chelsea House, 1994.

Collier, James Lincoln. Jazz: An American Saga. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997.

Hughes, Langston, illustrated with works by Romare Bearden. The Block. New York: Viking, 1995.

Hughes, Langston. First Book of Jazz. New York: F. Watts, 1982.

Hughes, Langston. A Pictorial History of Black Americans, fifth rev. ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1983.

Johnson, Herschel. A Visit to the Country. New York: Harper Collins Children's Books, 1989.

Monceaux, Morgan. Jazz: My Music, My People. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Myers, Christopher. Black Cat. Scholastic Press, 1999.

Raschka, Chris. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. Orchard Books, 1992.

Shange, Ntozake. I Live in Music. New York: Welcome Enterprises, 1994.

Romare Bearden, Serenade, 1969. collage and paint on panel, 45 3/4 x 32 1/2. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Madison Art Center members. 73.0.24 ? Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Reproduction of this image, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA, 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820, New York, NY 10118. Tel: 212-736-6666; Fax: 212-736-6767; e-mail: info@vagarights.com.

Wood, Michele and Toyomi Igus. i see the rhythm. Children's Book Press, 1998.

Pinkney, Brian. Max Found Two Sticks. Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Curriculum Connections:

Art appreciation, fundamentals, and technique?line, space, collage

African American communities, Harlem Renaissance, and popular culture

Language arts:
creative writing, oral reading, literature appreciation, poetry

Music appreciation:

Grade Level

Suitable for all grade levels


canvas or paper for painting
tag board for collage
tempera paint


collage (from the French coller, to paste):
a composition made by pasting various materials onto a flat surface

a modern art movement (1908-1918) depicting subjects as if seen from different angles at once, resembling puzzle pieces

an object or representation that has been twisted or changed from its usual appearance or normal shape

Harlem Renaissance:
primarily a literary movement that flourished in Harlem from about 1924 until the onset of the Depression in 1930; it was a product of post-World War I emigration from the South that made this uptown Manhattan neighborhood the economic, political, and cultural capital of black America

the act of making, inventing, or arranging spontaneously

a partly planned and partly spontaneous musical dialogue between the musicians who are performing it; to create jazz, musicians use inspiration, musical theory, past styles of music, and their life experiences

in music, the basically regular recurrence of grouped strong and weak beats, or heavily and lightly accented tones, in alternation; in poetry, the regular recurrence of grouped, stressed and unstressed, long and short, or high-pitched and low-pitched syllables in alternation

a vocal or instrumental performance of music outdoors at night, historically by a lover under the window of his sweetheart


Romare BeardenSerenade, 1969, collage and paint on panel, 45 3/4 x 32 1/2 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Madison Art Center members. 73.0.24 © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Reproduction of this image, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA, 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820, New York, NY 10118. Tel: 212-736-6666; Fax: 212-736-6767; e-mail: info@vagarights.com.

All grade levels

Art, history, language arts, music