There are more amazing artists to cover than art teachers have minutes in the day. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to include the big names of Western Art, let alone look elsewhere. However, adding contemporary artists to your curriculum can have an enormous impact on your program. Students love current, working artists just like they love current musicians. They’re now, in the moment, and just feel cool.
Additionally, where important artists of the past tend to trend toward dead and white, the current art world is global and diverse, making it easy for us to show students artists who look like them.
Here are 18 awesome artists to help increase engagement and connect with your kids.
Janet Echelman became an installation artist by accident. It’s a wonderful thing she did because her work is nothing short of incredible. Her beautiful, delicate forms, are made of netting and engineered collaboratively. They are awe inspiring when viewed suspended in air over bustling cities.
El Anatsui was born in Ghana but spent much of his life working in Nigeria. He weaves stunning fabric-like sculptures out of found objects. His work is great for all ages. Younger children will be captivated by his novel use of media while older students will appreciate the meaning behind the work.
Inspired by the need to address climate change, Zaria Forman’s large-scale pastel drawings capture the beauty and power of ice and waves. She is an artist for everyone. Forman’s skills with oil pastel will wow your students. Plus, the message behind her work makes an excellent connection to science or an excellent discussion prompt about social issues.
This list is a great place to start when planning your curriculum. If you’re looking for engaging ways to present these artists to your students, you may want to check out the following PRO Packs.
- Art History in the Elementary Art Room
- Art History in the Secondary Art Room
You can find both of these packs in PRO Learning to learn more. You’ll learn how to introduce compelling and relevant artists to your students and gain strategies to help your students interact in meaningful ways with the art they are seeing in your classroom.
Canadian artist, Dorian Lynde’s work, examines identity and stereotypes. Her “No Damsels” series is a modern feminist take on Disney Princesses, which will totally capture older students.
British-Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare’s work, explores colonialism and cultural identity with a variety of media. Advanced students will love examining the complex issues his work addresses. He is a great artist to use as a springboard to discuss the postmodern principle of appropriation.
Devorah Sperber makes innovative installations which involve pixel art, optical illusion, and art history. Sperber is a great artist for any level of student and would be a perfect fit for a lesson about unconventional materials.
Imagine walking by a famous building in your city and finding giant octopus tentacles sticking out of the windows and doors. Bristol artist, Luke Egan (aka Filthy Luker), creates urban installations he calls “art attacks” that are amazingly fun and visually interesting. His work is great for students of all ages.
Delicate and intricate, Courtney Mattison’s ceramic sculptures of coral reefs are designed to bring attention to these threatened ecosystems. Her work would be an excellent inspiration for student sculptures, studying clay technique, or as a starting point for a discussion about advocacy through art.
Swoon takes figurative art to another level through her “street interventions” and large-scale installations. She combines mixed media with paper cutouts that are just as at home in the gallery as they are wheat pasted to city streets.
Digital artist and rapper, Yung Jake, is well-known for his portraits of celebrities. He creates them by using emojis from the website emoji.ink like pointillist dots. Your students will be drawn to Jake’s work and delight in figuring out which emojis are used to create his images.
An inventor as well as an artist, Ester Roi developed an innovative drawing board for waxed based media that creates both warm and cool drawing surfaces. She uses her invention, the Icarus Board, to create stunning, hyper realistic drawings of natural objects interacting with water.
Not every artist is super comfortable with both a brush and oils and a can of spray paint. Adele Renault is one of the few painting both in the studio and on the street. Her subjects are realistic depictions of pigeons or people, especially the elderly. The bio on her website says she is, “fascinated by the inconspicuous beauty of everyday objects and subjects.” Her work makes that beauty shine through!
Are you wondering how these incredible artists fit within the context of art history? The AOEU Course Integrating Art History can show you! You’ll walk away with an action plan that outlines steps to integrate art history in your courses based on achievable and applicable goals.
Cayce Zavaglia was trained as a painter but transitioned to embroidery to avoid the chemicals. She uses the direction of her stitches much like a painter would use brushstrokes, creating highly-realistic and expressive images. What makes her work even better is the second image created on the back.
Stop motion virtuoso, PES, transforms everyday objects in his award-winning short films. If you are interested in including stop motion in your curriculum, his work is a must!
U.K artist and fashion illustrator, T.S Abe, is a master of portraiture, working in a variety of styles with exceptional results. Her animated portraits are both compelling and fun, making them perfect to share when your students learn about drawing the face or about animation.
Artist, Beth Lipman, creates delicate still lifes, installations, and portraits through glass objects she hand sculpts. Her work addresses material culture in an innovative and beautiful way that engages the viewer.
Whimsical, fun, and inviting are words that come to mind when describing Patrick Dougherty’s work. His monumental environmental sculptures, created on sight from foraged branches, beg to be wandered through and will capture the imagination of students of any age.
Lui Ferreyra breaks images into bright planes of geometric color using oil paint and Prismacolor colored pencils. The result is modern, fresh, and not to be missed. These drawings would be an excellent example of how to address arbitrary color, as well as portraiture.
So the next time you’re looking for inspiration for your students, challenge yourself to find someone new. Not only will your students be inspired by the work, but they’ll also be inspired to see artists who look just like them.
What contemporary artists do you love?
Whom would you add to the list?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.