The Influence of WWI on Art and Artists

Teresa Strohl, Art, Elon Park Elementary

Curriculum Unit (PDF)


This Curriculum Unit will help my Third Grade students discover the many ways that artists responded to World War I and the influence of the war had on an individual’s art work. The unit will look at art by soldiers and civilians, art commissioned by the military, and individuals expressing their emotions within their art. I will introduce my students to the artists of WWI, artists who served in the war as soldiers and those men whose military role was as a “war artist”. This unit will also look at how the 1918 – 1920 Influenza Pandemic affected the home front and soldiers who served. Art can help soothe one’s feelings whether it is anger, grief, fear, or uncertainty. 

John Singer Sargent is an example of a “war artist” who was placed in the war to document it by painting battles and the soldiers’ emotional fatigue. Other artists served in the war or were drafted into it such as Horace Pippin, Charles E. Burchfield, and Claggett Wilson. Georgia O’Keeffe is the only woman that I highlighted in this unit. She did not serve in the war, but her brother Alexis did. O’Keeffe became ill with the virus during the pandemic that broke out at the end of the war. O’Keeffe painted a picture called “The Flag” that expressed her strong emotions about the effects of war on soldiers and about the pandemic that took the lives of so many people.  

This unit also includes how families were soothed by the arts during a stressful time in our history, the 1918 – 1920 Influenza Pandemic. I compare how families then coped with Influenza and our present pandemic COVID-19 by using the arts to pass the time during quarantine. Soldiers also used the arts to pass the time in the trenches between fighting by finding pieces of metal and turning them into pieces of art. The arts keep your mind busy and your hands doing something, like with cross-stitch, knitting, painting, sculpting with found objects, or writing. I want my third graders to understand that the arts communicate a message, record an event, express opinions/feelings and become an outlet to comfort people in a time of uncertainty.