Susan Riley | August 2016

Natural Pairings: Artists and Subjects

Have you ever wanted to do an Arts Integration or STEAM lesson but didn’t want it to feel “cookie cutter”?  You want your lesson to be different, unique and exciting!  But maybe, nothing different, unique or exciting is popping into your head right now. Maybe, you’re stuck thinking about the usual suspects: Van Gogh, Kandinsky or Beethoven, paired with Science, Math, and Reading. Well no more!  I reached out to our Facebook Think Tank group and asked for some fresh ideas on their favorite natural pairings between artists and subjects. And they TOTALLY came through!

Here’s a list of their top 5 suggestions for Natural Pairings: Artists and Subjects


“I taught about actor and playwright George Takei with my WWII unit last year and my students were so interested in his story. I would like to continue integrating current people in my history units; especially those that are using art as a medium.”

– Jen Cordero


“Have students create Andy Warhol-inspired artwork that links in with another sense.  Like scratch and sniff Warhol bananas or student-composed music to a piece of their artwork. Or printmaking portraits with physical texture.”

– Lauren Hodson


“I like to compare/contrast Laura Ingles Wilder with Frank Lloyd Wright. They were contemporaries – both born in the same year – and both lived in WI.”

– Amanda Acklam


“Stravinsky (dissonance/Spring) and the band ‘domakesaythink’ and abstract drawing or drawing with a TON of inventive mark making/varied rhythms, such as Julie Mehretu or Twombly. Phillip Glass (minimalist composer) and obviously the minimalist painters such as Agnes Martin.  Also, try weaving such as with Sheila Hicks. Juke and Jug bands of American Folk history, the Alan Lomax Label of Folk Music with American Folk Art are amazing.  And Pre-Columbian musical instruments, folk instruments of the Americas or indigenous flute recordings of South America or the Americas, in general, are all more examples you can use.”

– Caryn Alyssa


“I love putting music to stories — I did Deadmau5’s “The Veldt” with Bradbury’s short story of the same name.  It was awesome. With so many artists to choose from, you take what will work best. Frida Kahlo with “Esperanza Rising” for cultural connection, Saint-Saens’ music with poetry — I especially like to use ‘Dance Macabre’ when I start into my Cambridge unit on horror.”

– Christine Elizabeth

What I really love about these are why and how these innovative teachers are crafting these natural pairings.  Just like a great food and wine pairing, these connections are unexpected but once you see them, you can’t unsee them!

Sometimes, we just need a little push to bust through our creative ruts.  Whether that’s a new location, a new challenge or even just a new way for natural pairing of artists and subjects, change can be great!  This year, try something new.  You just might surprise yourself and your students with how much you enjoy it.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan