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It All Adds Up to Art

For Grades 5–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Pre-discussion Student Activity
Student Activity
Additional Suggested Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Lorna Simpson
(American, born 1960)
Counting, 1991
Photogravure with silkscreen, edition 8/60
73 3/4 x 38 inches (187.3 x 96.5 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Gerald S. Elliott Fund, 1992
Background Information for Educators


  • Students will create their own work of art using text and images
  • Students will learn about how Lorna Simpson combines text and images in her work Counting and analyze its possible meanings through observation and discussion
  • Students will compare Simpson's work to their own
  • Students will understand how combinations of images and words can have multiple interpretations depending on viewers' perspectives and backgrounds


  • Large paper (at least 8 x 10 inches)
  • 30 small slips of paper the size of a gum wrapper (for each child)
  • Magazine, newspaper, or snapshot photographs
  • Glue sticks
  • Pencils


  • Have each student choose three pictures from any source—newspaper, or snapshots. If you like, assign them to look for photos relating to a community/Social Studies issue they have been studying (freedom, oppression, slavery, voting, war, peace, for example). Alternatively, you can select images yourself and pass them out to your students.
  • Have them look at each picture and write down the first ten words that come to their minds, writing each word on a separate slip of paper the size of a gum wrapper.
  • Have them cut each picture in half and throw one half away.
  • Write the numbers 10 through 30 on separate pieces of paper and have each student choose a piece of paper. The number drawn is the number of words from their lists that can be used with their pictures. Give them a larger sheet of paper and have them arrange their words and pictures on it and glue them down.
  • Hang up the works of art and let students look at them.


Display the image of Counting for the class. How is it like the works of art they just made? How is it different? Direct them to first look at each photograph, one at a time, and then to think about the whole work of art.

  • Can they use their imaginations to describe the person in the top photograph? What is the person wearing? Is the person a man or a woman? What do the times listed next to the person mean? Remember to accept all answers.
  • What do they think the middle photograph represents? After they give their ideas, you can reveal to them that it is a contemporary smokehouse in South Carolina. A smokehouse is used for storing and smoking foods like bacon and fish. In the past this hut was used as slave living quarters. What might the words next to this picture mean?
  • Finally, can they identify the bottom picture? Many people think it is a rug; others recognize it as hair. Do your students have other ideas as to what it might be? If it is hair, what might the words mean? What about if it is a rug?
  • Why do you think the artist, a woman named Lorna Simpson, called this work of art Counting?
  • What do students think the artwork means? There are no wrong answers to this question, as Lorna Simpson has said that she intends her artworks to be open-ended so people can come to their own conclusions about their meaning. The longer you and your students talk about it, the more ideas you will uncover.
  • Now look at the students’ works of art. Have each student hold his or hers up and see if classmates can answer these questions: Can they tell what the pictures are? How do the words fit with the pictures? Can they tell which picture goes with which words? What do they think the artwork means? The artist can then share what the original pictures were and what he or she was thinking about while making the artwork.


Lorna Simpson is an artist who creates evocative works that examine how combinations of pictures and texts create new meanings that do not exist in the images or words alone.

The Activity Sheet will help your students explore how a word and an image can work together to make new ideas. It can be assigned as homework so that family members can help, or completed in class.

Activity Sheet (PDF)

Additional Suggested Activities

  1. Collect magazines. Choose a political idea (for example, freedom, oppression, slavery, voting, etc.) and select pictures or parts of pictures about which to make statements. Use white paper for the background. Pick a number of images and cut them out for the following game:
    • Make two sets of small papers, numbering the papers in each set from one to ten. Put each set of papers in a hat, and select one number from each set. The first number selected dictates the number of words you can use; the second the number of images. If you want to add a twist, pick an idea from a hat in the same way. (For example, if you pulled the numbers four and six and chose the topic slavery, you would have to create an artwork about slavery using four words and six images.) Words could be cut out of magazines, designed using different fonts on a computer, or written, and then pasted down. Be creative in your parameters. Perhaps you can use only four words, but can repeat those words as many times as you like in one piece.
  2. Cut words out of texts such as magazines, newspapers, etc., and place them into a large basket. Concentrate on nouns and verbs. Pick fifteen words, compose a poem out of them, and paste it on paper. No fair writing in other words! Try to concentrate on the sound of the words in a row, and don’t worry if they don’t make sense! Share your poems.
  3. People use hair to make statements about themselves. Discuss different hairstyles, both contemporary and historical (i.e. powdered wigs from earlier centuries, Afros, military crew-cuts, punk styles, rap-artist styles, etc.), and what they say about the people who wear them. Collect hairstyle pictures to use in the discussion.


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies 1, 5 (if you study this work in connection with African American history or historic or contemporary topics)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 2 (see Additional Suggested Activity #2), 3, 4, 5, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (if you study this work in connection with African American history or other historical or contemporary topics), 9, 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 7, 8 (see Additional Suggested Activities #1 and #3), 10 (see Additional Suggested Activity #2) and 11 (New York only) (you may also fulfill Standards 5 and 6 if drafts and presentations are developed from the writing)


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description