Musical Math-terpiece: The Art of Piet Mondrian

By Jean Rho, November 7, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Four or five fifty-minute class periods


Students will learn about the life and art of Piet Mondrian, his style influenced by jazz music, and his technique using spatial concepts. Students will create a painting in Mondrian's non-objective style. Art, music, design, and math have connections we may not have thought about. There are patterns, rhythms, and shapes in each. You can use math and music to become a better artist/designer!

National Standards

Visual Arts
Art Connections Standard 6. Level IV Makes connections between visual arts and other disciplines 2. Knows how characteristics of the arts vary within a particular historical period or style and how these characteristics relate to ideas, issues, or themes in other disciplines
English Language Arts
Information Literacy
5. Draws conclusions and makes inferences based on explicit and implicit information in texts


By the end of this lesson, students will:
• listen to jazz music and interpret how sounds have color, rhythm, and pattern • use the Internet to research and record facts about the life of Piet Mondrian and analyze the development of Mondrian's unique style of art • create paintings using primary colors and straight-lined quadrilaterals • operate computer software to produce images based on grid patterns of repeating shapes


Websites: Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942-1943, Piet Mondrian Vestige, 1985-86, Bob Heatley Bransford, J., Brown, A., Cocking, R. “Technology to support learning.” In How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. (pp. 194-220). Washington D.C.: Academy Press, 1999. Ringstaff, C., Kelley, L. The Learning Return on Our Educational Technology Investment: A Review of Findings from Research. San Francisco: WestEd, 2002. (PDF File) Lionni, Leo. Little Blue and Little Yellow. Mulberry Books, 1995.


• computers (one for each student) • CD player • CDs of Meade Lux Lewis and Alber Ammons • writing paper • canvases • paintbrushes • rulers • acrylic paint • pencils


pattern-a decorative design, as for wallpaper, china, or textile fabrics, etc.; decoration or ornament having such a design primary color-a color, as red, yellow, or blue, that in mixture yields other colors quadrilateral-a plane figure having four sides and four angles representation-the expression or designation by some term, character, symbol, or the like


Activities before going to the computer: • Introduce the students to the painting "Broadway Boogie Woogie" ( and lead a discussion about what they see, what they think is happening, and what they think the painting means. • Invite students to talk about what music they like, then play jazz by Meade Lux Lewis and Alber Ammons, two musicians that inspired Mondrian. Inform the students that Mondrian was an artist who tried to make music come to life in his paintings. • Inform the students that they will research Mondrian’s life and work in order to write a biographical report. Ultimately, the students will create their own versions of paintings in Mondrian’s style. Computer research activity: Students will work at the computer both individually and in their learning groups to access web-quests and various biographical and informational web-pages about Piet Mondrian and his paintings. • Divide the class into groups or learning clubs with one student playing the role of the “navigator,” while the others make sketches and record data. One student will be the “recorder,” another the “presenter,” all will be “researchers.” • Have the students research Mondrian and record their information. • The students will then use their research to write a biographical report and prepare a class presentation about Mondrian. Make sure to allot at least one class period (or more, depending on students’ abilities with computers and researching) to Internet researching and one class period to the report write-up and class presentation preparation. • Have all of the groups present their findings on the life and work of Mondrian. If there is not enough time for entire presentations, have each group present surprising or interesting findings. Encourage discussion among the students.
Mondrian computer art activity: • Have each student operate a PC computer to access various Mondrian graphics sites to become more familiar with his work. • Instruct the students that they will use the “Paint” program on their PC computer to produce images based on grid patterns of repeating shapes, in the same style as Mondrian. • In Paint, have students click on the Select feature to draw a picture plane by clicking and dragging the cursor to the desired size. • Using the Rectangle and Line features, encourage the students to explore different geometrical shapes and patterns emulating those of Mondrian's paintings to create their lines, shapes, and patterns. Encourage the students to vary line thickness, by using that tool. • Upon successful completion of the linear composition, have students select the Pick Color and Fill With Color features to apply their desired color palette paying close attention to repetition and pattern. (Optional—Have students complete one piece in a primary color scheme, a color scheme of their choosing, or even a secondary or tertiary color scheme.) • Also point out the Eraser/Color Eraser options. • When the students’ pieces are complete, have them title their piece, save it, then print it out (in color).Culminating activity: After reporting on Mondrian and experiencing the graphics software, play jazz music for the students. Have them listen to the music and create a painting in Mondrian’s grid style using straight lines and repeating shapes. Have them paint primary colors to represent different sounds in the music.


Students will be assessed by means of: • Portfolio • Performance • Presentation Assess students on their oral and a written report about Mondrian, along with their participation, computer art, and painting.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can read books that were inspired by Mondrian's art—little blue and little yellow by Leo Lionni.

Teacher Reflection

The unit was very successful with the students. They were engaged in the web-quest portion and listening to and interpreting the music. Their writing skills and abilities were of less interest to them and were not as emphasized within the context of the art classroom unit. However, they did go through self, peer, and teacher edits and revisions and even gave an oral presentation with their painting. The paintings were successful and varied in terms of composition and interpretation of Mondrian's style. The students enjoyed working within the constraints of geometry, color, and form. Overall, the integrated lesson was a success. For further implementation, I would consider comparing and contrasting paintings and or other artwork from that period and delving deeper into the history of that time with another cross-curricular link to Social Studies through Industrialization, African-American music, factory workers, etc.
  1. I think this is a great way to teach students about the processes involved in creating non-objective art. Most middle school students do not understand this concept. Incorporating digital media seems to be an effective way to keep students engaged. Linking music with art ties hearing and seeing together, a concept that is invaluable in the Art classroom.

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