Paul Keene, Haitian Street Scene, 1952, oil on panel, H. 22 1/4 x W. 29 1/2 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Selma A. Heringman

Tip #3 – A work of art can begin a discussion about history, society and culture

Do you like to travel? Traveling around the world is a wonderful way to help us learn about different cultures, languages, and customs. Sometimes if we don’t have the opportunity to physically visit a place, we can use art to help transport us there.

Let’s take a look at Paul Keene’s Haitian Street Scene. What do you see? Does anything look familiar to you?

Paul Keene’s vibrantly colorful work told stories about the African American community in Philadelphia. In 1952, Keene was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to Haiti which gave him the opportunity to travel and explore another culture. When Keene and his family arrived in Haiti in June of that year, he was appointed the director of courses at the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince.  Keene was inspired by the color, the natural abstract quality he found in the Haitian City and villages, and the sounds of the rhythmic drumming that he heard day and night. He said, “…Being in Haiti, between 1952-1954, had a big influence as well, and that was color. Everything there was very vibrant and beautiful, the yellows, blues, purples, reds, the light especially was magnificent. I started experimenting with colors that worked well together, and so I was again doing something that was not expected…”

Use the questions below to look closer at the work of Paul Keene.

Looking Questions:

  • What do you see in this painting? List all the details you can find.
  • Describe the colors, lines and shapes.
  • What is the setting?
  • How would you describe the artist’s brushstrokes?
  • Is there movement in this work? Explain your answer.
  • Close your eyes. Imagine you have walked into this painting. Describe what would you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste.
  • Would you want to visit this place? Why or why not?
  • Is there an aspect of this work that interests you? Why or why not?
  • Does this work remind you of anything? Explain.
  • What details has Keene included in his work that help us learn more about the culture and people of Haiti?
  • Does this artwork have more then one meaning to you? Why or why not?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you visit? Can you find a painting of that place?

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