Images of Peace in Challenging Times

Art EducationBrigida SwansonComment
A middle school art lesson about Jean Jullien and his Peace for Paris drawing

After learning about the attacks in Paris last week, one thing I was struck by was the response of artists across social media. Images of support, calm, love and peace prevailed, with the now iconic Peace for Paris design showing up everywhere on Instagram. Knowing that my middle school students would be hearing the news of the attacks and seeing many of these same images on their social media feeds, I decided to create a lesson that gave a bit of background on one of the artists and invited my students to create images of their own.

Jean Jullien and Peace for Paris

I showed my students a PowerPoint slideshow about the French illustrator, Jean Jullien, the creator of the Peace for Paris design. I talked about his background as an illustrator for The New Yorker, Nike, BMW and The Guardian, and showed them a few images he’d recently made about technology. Then I showed the Peace for Paris drawing and asked them why they thought this image resonated with so many people, even though it was so simple that anyone could easily draw it.

My students commented that because Jullien was already well-known as an illustrator, this would help others to see his image in the first place. They talked about how the roughness of the ink brushstrokes evoked the horror of the events. They said that his image called for peace, which was something people needed in such a sad time. They said that they could feel how immediate his drawing was, that the simplicity and quickness of the sketch helped to show the emotions and meaning behind his art.

We discussed how Jullien used his creativity to combine two ideas, the peace sign and the Eiffel Tower, into one image that meant more than the simple addition of the two. We talked about how raw artistic expression and simplicity can sometimes more easily convey the emotions that are too hard to put into words.

We then looked at images of how Jullien’s drawing spread throughout Paris and the world to become a symbol of hope, solidarity and emotional support in a difficult time. We also listened to an NPR story in which he described his art and creative process, as well as his thoughts on the reaction to his drawing.

Art for Peace

Then, I invited my students to use what they had learned to create their own artworks. My seventh graders were given the challenge to create an image of peace on a 12” x 12” paper using any materials in the art studio. My eighth graders, who had just started a photography unit, were challenged to capture the theme of simplicity to express emotion.

My students were very excited about the prospect of creating their own artworks that react to tragedy with hope and a call for peace. Their immediate engagement in the process and the seriousness they took to completing the task let me know that this lesson was very much needed in the art room. If you’ve done a similar lesson with your students, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

For Educators

Click on the button below to download the PowerPoint I used with my classes for this lesson.