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Feelings in Color

For Grades 2–8

© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Table of Contents

Featured Works
Part I: Compare and Contrast by Looking
Part II: Brainstorming—Art and the World Around Us
Part III: Compare and Contrast by Creating
Family Project
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Works

Mark Rothko
(America, born Latvia, 1903–1970)
Orange and Yellow, 1956
Oil on canvas
91 x 71 inches (231.1 x 180.3 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956
Background Information for Educators

© 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jackson Pollock
(American, 1912–1956)
Convergence, 1952
Oil on canvas
95 1/4 x 157 1/8 inches (241.9 x 399.1 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956
Background Information for Educators 


This lesson is an exercise in looking and thinking, making comparisons and connections. It relates to elements in all categories of the comprehension strategies of the third-grade language arts program: relate ideas, organize information, synthesize ideas, evaluate ideas, and generate and apply ideas. The family project could relate to the science and math curricula by turning the students' Family Project Worksheets results into graphs and charts, followed by an analysis of the compiled data.


  • Students will learn about two paintings by twentieth-century artists—an “action” painting by Jackson Pollock and a “color field” painting by Mark Rothko—through observation, comparison, and discussion
  • Students will make analogies between each painting and people/things in their lives
  • Students will make artworks to express emotions with lines, shapes, and colors
  • Students will analyze and categorize the works they create
  • Students will involve their families in their learning through a take-home worksheet
  • Students will combine and analyze the data they collect from their families through graphs and charts (see Introduction)


  • Images for class display
  • Blackboard


What do you see?

  • Show both images at the SAME TIME, if possible.
  • Ask the students to write down five words that they think describe each work of art.
  • Have the students share their observations; write each word on the board until you've included everyone's ideas.
  • From these lists, can generalizations be made about each work of art? Hopefully, the students' words will have captured the differences between the spontaneity and energetic quality of Pollock's work vs. the more ordered and tranquil style of Rothko. Are there any similarities between the two paintings?

How were they made?

Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko approached the creation of their paintings in different ways. Ask the students to figure out how they think each painting was made. Use the table below to guide the discussion.

Pollock's Painting Technique

The canvas was on the floor (if it had been on an easel, the paint would have dripped downwards).

Paint was dripped on to the canvas, and is very thick in some places.

Part of the result is random, but look for evidence of control (e.g. the orange loop in the upper left corner).

Pollock's technique allows us to envision his movements while creating the painting. That's why it's known as "action" or "gesture" painting.

The whole surface isn't covered. The beige color seen in many areas is the bare canvas.

Rothko's Painting Technique

The canvas was on an easel.

Paint was applied very thinly with sponges and cloths to avoid leaving any visible brushstrokes.

Most of the result is controlled, but look at the way the edges of the shapes are indistinct.

Rothko wanted us to think only about colors and the moods they create, not about him. This is called "color-field painting."

The whole surface of the canvas is covered with paint.


The contrasts found in Pollock's and Rothko's paintings can be applied to other aspects of ourselves and our environment.

For example:

  • What type of hairstyle would go with Convergence? With Orange and Yellow?
  • What kind of weather do you think of when looking at each work?
  • What type of animal might live in a painting by Pollock? In one by Rothko?

Ask similar questions with subjects like dancing, clothing, food, music, TV shows, etc. Make it fun!



  • White string
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • White glue
  • 8 1/2 x 11-inch white paper

Now create your own non-objective compositions using line and color!

  • Have the students count off by fives. Assign each group one of the following emotions: bored, frightened, relaxed, surprised, and happy. Have the students write their assigned emotions on the back of their paper.
  • Ask them to use the string and glue (do not use the markers yet!) to create a composition that expresses their assigned emotion. Urge students not to include recognizable objects in their works. Remember that each student will have a different idea about how to go about this – try to let them work it out on their own and be accepting of all attempts.
  • Once they have finished their string compositions, give them markers to add color in any way that they think may help to express the emotions.
  • Collect the projects and put them up in the classroom in a random order. Have the students try to classify them into five categories – which ones express which emotion? Discuss the various approaches used and any problems encountered. Are the students happy with the results?
  • Now classify the works into two categories: which works are most like Pollock's painting and which are most like Rothko's? Discuss.


Activity Sheet (PDF)


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Math, Science, and Technology 3
  • New York State Learning Standards for Mathematical Practice 1, 2, 3, 4 (see Introduction), 5 (see Introduction), 7
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3, 4, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 4, 5


  • Mark Rothko's Orange and Yellow: Audio for Younger Students

  • Mark Rothko's Orange and Yellow: Audio for High School Students

  • Mark Rothko's Orange and Yellow: Audio Description

  • Jackson Pollock's Convergence: Audio for Younger Students

  • Jackson Pollock's Convergence: Audio for High School Students

  • Jackson Pollock's Convergence: Audio Description