How to Bring March Madness Into the Art Room

Each March, men’s college basketball takes over as sixty-eight teams vie to be the National Champion. While the games can be entertaining, it’s the cultural phenomenon of the bracket challenge that dominates headlines and conversations. Fans—or self-proclaimed “bracketologists”—across the country become obsessed as they fill out their brackets trying to predict the winners of each game. To put this in perspective, Sports Illustrated shared that 17.2 million brackets were entered into the ESPN Tournament Challenge in 2019 alone. And that’s just one of the many bracket pools available to fans. Many of your students might also be swept up by March Madness, which gives you an opportunity to harness that excitement and bring it into the art room.


What is Art Madness?

Inspired by the unpredictable brackets of March Madness, “Art Madness” is a game that helps your students learn about artists and different artistic styles through one activity. Similar to speed dating, students will have the opportunity to quickly research and learn about a diverse group of artists and artwork. Some artwork will really resonate with students, some will spark conversation, and some will be forgotten rather quickly. Each student, however, is guaranteed to walk away with new knowledge about an inspirational artist.

art textbook

As the teacher, you’ll also gain new insight into the interests and likes of your students. Knowing which artists, styles, and pieces drew their attention can help you plan more intentionally in the future. Through conversation, you might also learn more about your students as they share why they picked certain artists. Perhaps it was the artist’s identity or life story that connected with the student. Knowing this information can be just as helpful as their artistic preferences.

It can sometimes feel counter-intuitive to take a break from making art in the classroom. However, fitting in one-day activities like Art Madness can be an investment for the future as you help students build their bank of resources, learn about their interests, and further expose them to the art world.

Google image of Howardena Pindell

How to Play

If you aren’t familiar with a bracket-style tournament, it’s fairly basic for students of all levels to understand.

Here is a helpful bracket for you to download and use right away!

Download Now!

Starting in the first round, the two opposing artists go head to head and one of the artists wins and moves on to the next round. After each of the winning artists are selected from the first round, the process continues in the second round and goes until there is one remaining overall champion. Art Madness can be played in a number of different ways. Here are a few suggestions:

  1.  Individual Play: Students work independently to research each artist and pick the winners until the game is complete. This style of play works well for homework, a sub-plan, or an individual assignment for a student who finishes their project early.
  2. Class Pool: Guide your class through each matchup by allocating a few minutes for students to look up the two artists. Then, have the class vote on who should win each time. Working as a class can be a fun way to build community and the activity can work well in-between projects or the day before a long holiday break.
  3. Inspiration Journal: Throughout the activity, students can collect images they like and want to refer to later. This journal can be used as a resource for future ideas or to help with creative blocks. This approach works well at the beginning of the course to allow students maximum time to use the journal throughout the year.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. The main goal is for students to learn about artwork and you should structure the activity to best meet the students in front of you. You can easily get started by using the blank template below and this artist bank to create your own list of artists that work for your classroom.

March Madness will sweep through an art room near you this month. Capitalize on the momentum and steer students to explore the art world through Art Madness. Good luck and have fun!

How can art teachers provide more games for students to play? 

Should students of all ages be researching artists? 

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.


Nick Gehl

Nick Gehl is a department chair of fine arts and a former AOEU Writer. He enjoys working with art teachers to improve the student experience in the studio and foster more leaders in the arts.

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