Noel W. Anderson: American Symbols | Hunter Museum of American Art 7.0.33-0+deb9u12

Noel W. Anderson: American Symbols

Symbolic imagery can be a subtle and very effective means of communicating ideas in both art and literature. After exploring examples of symbols in the Hunter’s permanent collection and viewing the symbolic imagery in Noel Anderson’s Hands Up, learners will create self-expressive collages that incorporate symbols, reflecting their own perspectives on America.


English Language Arts

  • 04: Construct and communicate arguments citing supporting evidence to: ● Demonstrate and defend an understanding of ideas ● Compare and contrast viewpoints ● Illustrate cause and effect ● Predict likely outcomes ● Devise new outcomes or solutions
  • 9-12.SL.PKI.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning; address alternative or opposing perspectives; and organize and develop substance and style appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • VA.Cr2.C Redesign an object, system, place, or design in response to contemporary issues.


After completing this activity, students will better be able to:

  1. Define symbolism and provide examples of established symbols used in various styles of artwork
  2. Use elements and principles of design to create their own symbolic images
  3. Display the safe and correct use of art materials
Noel W. Anderson (b. 1982), Hands-Up, 2016, stretched Jacquard tapestries. Museum purchase, 2019.27.a-d.
Noel W Anderson (b1981 Louisville, KY) received an MFA from Indiana University in printmaking and an MFA from Yale University in sculpture. He is currently the Area Head of Printmaking in NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. In 2018, Anderson was awarded the NYFA artist fellowship grant and the prestigious Jerome Prize. His solo exhibition Blak Origin Moment debuted at the Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati) in February 2017, and the Hunter organized a new version of the exhibit for our venue in October 2019. The Hunter Museum acquired Hands Up following that exhibit and published an accompanying catalog.

Anderson utilizes print media and arts-based research to explore philosophical inquiry methodologies. He primarily focuses on the mediation of socially constructed images on identity formation as it relates to black masculinity and celebrity.

In his large tapestries, collaged magazine works, and other historical and contemporary printed media, Anderson distorts and transforms mass media images to demonstrate how symbols and imagery can be manipulated. His works explore how these manipulations can create conflicting definitions of Black people, culture, events, and understandings of identity – both self-understandings and external interpretations. By deliberately showing us distortions, Anderson is asking the viewer how they see things and in what ways are our opinions and perspectives are altered or influenced by what we see.

Starting with the question, “When did you know you were black?” Blak Origin Moment searches for a beginning by way of a black archive. – Anderson


Symbolism (symbol) – images, words, or gestures used to create and imply meaning

Portraiture – art representing a person or figure

Composition –  the way the elements of art are arranged for the viewer, often this affects the works interpretation and the way the art and its meaning are perceived

Perception – the way an artwork is seen, interpreted and understood by viewers

Frontal portrait – looking at a person or figures face and body as if they were facing you

Logo – a simple design used to represent a brand, person or company (example: Nike swoosh, McDonald’s M)

Self-expressive –representing you or referencing how an artist shares their emotions, opinions and ideas

Mass Media – television, radio, social media, newspapers and other organizations that share information publically


    • What are symbols? How do we use symbols and where have you seen symbols used? How and why do artists use symbolism?
    • How did you see symbols used in the various artwork in the galleries?
    • How is symbolism used to provide information about an individual in a portrait? How is symbolism used to communicate other ideas within artwork?
    • What images and symbols look like America to you?
    • What words would you use to describe the country and your feelings about it?
    • What does America mean to you?


Students will look at how symbols and symbolic imagery is used to express thoughts or share opinions. Looking at the art of Noel Anderson, learners will consider how these images can be rearranged and combined with other symbols to change meanings and share personal ideas.


What are symbols? How do we use symbols and where have you seen symbols used? How and why do artists use symbolism?

    1. How did you see symbols used in the various artwork in the galleries?
    2. How is symbolism used to provide information about an individual in a portrait? How is symbolism used to communicate other ideas within artwork?
    3. Introduce students to the studio project. Today students will create a collage that expresses their perception of America. What does America look like, feel like, mean to you?
    4. Discuss with the group the types of symbols they see daily (smiley faces, McDonald’s Arch, Apple Logo, even words) and the types of symbols they might use to represent their perception of America: a simple shape, a figure, lines or patterns of shapes, a merging/blend of symbols and words?
      • What does America look like to you?
      • What does America feel, sound, smell, taste like to you?
      • What does America mean to you?
      • How will you depict this vision with found images and words?
      • How will you incorporate these into a complete design?
    5. Have students take a large piece of paper and the provided materials to begin searching for their images. Students can combine pictures with letters to form words that express feelings associated with or connected to the answer to the lesson prompt. Using cut-out letters to form words replicates Anderson’s style of using anonymity to share an idea as an individual and as a society all at once.
      • Allow students time to find and cut out images, words, letters, etc.
    6. Suggest that students lay their images out and organize them in the way that best depicts their idea before gluing items to the page.
    7. Once students are satisfied with the layout of their work, have them glue the images to the page.
    8. Offer students a chance to share their symbols/logos and to explain why these items represent them.
    9. When about 10 minutes are left in class, ask students to finish up their collages and begin cleaning up the area around them.
  1. Ask if anyone would like to share their collage. Use the students’ work to review what they saw and talked about in the galleries and in the studio (review vocabulary).
  2. Share student work online via #huntermuseum or send to

  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils, erasers
  • Colored pencils
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Glue
  • Scissors
Project Examples

Student work from the Hunter (left), Noel Anderson, Slice, 2013 (right)

Noel Anderson, Wink, 2016 (below left) and Check the Skin (below right)  (courtesy of the artist’s website)  

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