Activate: Intolerance

Deconstructing Messages of Fear

For over two hundred years artists and designers have created images addressing freedoms of expression, including those protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The American artist, Norman Rockwell, created the Four Freedoms series of posters in 1943 in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address (known as his “Four Freedoms Speech”). These posters have inspired many other artists since that time and are the primary focus for this artistic response activity, in particular the Freedom from Fear poster. (The posters may be downloaded from the Thoughts on Democracy section of the website and are also reproduced in the printed instructor guide.)

  1. Allow students to arrive at their own conclusions about the Rockwell poster by facilitating an open group discussion using the Visual Thinking Strategies© methodology:
      • What’s going on in this picture?
      • What do you see that makes you say that?
      • What more can we find?

    NOTE: Use the second question to prompt students when they do not provide evidence for their reasoning; for example, “What do you see that makes you say that the man looks sad?”

    After this discussion, IF students request more information, you can provide some historical background on Rockwell’s creation of these posters in 1943. You may address the production of propaganda to promote the sale of war bonds and FDR’s “Four Freedoms Speech” to Congress and the American people. (The text of the speech is included in the Lesson Resources. A video is also available online.)

      • What might the U.S. citizens in 1943 have been fearful of
      • Why does Rockwell feel that fighting for freedom from fear is a collective issue, an issue that is “OURS…to fight for”?
      • Are we engaged in a collective fight for freedom from fear today? If so, what causes us to feel fearful?
      • What can we do as a community to lessen the impact of these fears?
  2. After the group discussion, place students into small groups of 3-4.
  3. Download and distribute copies of a selection of the Freedom from Fear posters created by contemporary artists for the Thoughts on Democracy: Reinterpreting Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms exhibition; or you may provide the link to the website for students to view images online or project them in your classroom. Each group should focus on a different image.
  4. Instruct students to discuss, within their groups, the contemporary fears expressed in the artists’ posters addressing Freedom from Fear. Each group should prepare to share their ideas and analysis of a poster to the class.
  5. Students should employ the same three-question strategy to analyze their group’s poster. Additionally, students should think critically about how the artist re-envisioned Rockwell’s poster and whether the perceived fear the artist is addressing is the same, or if it has changed.
  6. Each group will briefly present its analysis of the re-designed Rockwell posters.
  7. Each group will then design a poster on an approximately 12 x 18 inches poster board (or roughly one-half of a board) using collaged images and texts to convey a message about a fear they think is present today. Distribute the Poster Design Rubric to each group to review as they begin their design process.
  8. Each group will make an in-class presentation about the poster they designed explaining the choices they made in terms of topic or fear the poster is addressing and their use of text, fonts, images, and colors.
  9. The class should vote on the most successful posters to be uploaded to Interact section of website. (You will need to request to set up a Community Group before images can be uploaded.)