Art of the Northwest Indians

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11930

What can sports mascots teach us about art? Are totem poles really all alike? Are Native Americans all alike? Learn to read the "fingerprints" found on works of art and try your hand on your own art!


United States, Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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When we look at a picture or a painting, we usually see one whole scene or image before our eyes. What happens, though, when you try to break that picture down into smaller bits?

A work of art can sometimes be quite overwhelming.

Depending on the complexity with which the artist designed the work, there can be a lot going on. One of our strategies as viewers of art is to break those more complex designs down into smaller pieces we can recognize. We can look for motifs (pronounced moh-teefs) in order to understand and appreciate the work the artist has composed. A motif is a simple visual element that we see repeated, either multiple times in the same work or over several works.

For example, if you look at a series of college football mascot logos, certain patterns will begin to emerge. As you look at a series of these sports logos, try to identify and write down at least three aspects of these images you see repeated in other logos on the same page. Examine Mean Mascot Logos from NCAA Division I Universities, courtesy of Slate. Then, share your findings with your parent or teacher. Discuss the following questions:

  • Why did these sports teams use some of the same elements?
  • As a viewer of those images, what do those motifs or elements communicate to you?
  • Which of those choices of motifs or elements seem to be "tougher" or "softer"? What makes you think so?

You may have found a number of possible motifs in those sports logos, including sharp teeth, angry-looking animals, mascots facing almost always to the right, facial hair on the human mascots, or bold and even jarring color combinations, amongst others.

In the Got It? section, let's apply the concept of motif to the art of the Northwest Indian tribes.

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