5th Grade – Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkins

5th Grade – Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkins

Description of the Unit –

Yayoi Kusama is one of my favorite contemporary artists. Her irreverence, originality, rebelliousness and whimsy have won my heart, as have her personal struggles with mental illness. An artist whose work always surprises and delights, I love to bring her life story and work to my students.

Together we explore and discuss the work of this seminal Japanese artist, whose pioneering installations have enthralled visitors to her work over the last several decades. Using her iconic polka-dotted pumpkins as inspiration, students will emphasize the elements of line, color and shape, and well as principles of pattern, repetition and movement, in their own brightly colored pumpkins.

The indomitable Yayoi Kusama at work

Activity statement –

Yayoi Kusama is a contemporary Japanese artist who accentuates the use of bold, contrasting color, repetitive patterns, (especially dots), and movement (through the use of organic lines) in all of her work, whether it be painting, mixed media, sculpture or interactive installations. While observing various two- and three-dimensional examples of Kusama’s pumpkins, students will be asked their observations of the rounded, asymmetrical form of the pumpkins. Through observing and discussing of her work students will begin to understand how these elements and principles can be used in their own Kusama-inspired work of art. (For more information on the artist, visit: http://www.artnet.com/artists/yayoi-kusama/. Also, I like to share the following book with my students: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/1633450392/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_5?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1.)

The book I like sharing with my students

A longtime fan of Kusama’s work, I had searched around for a way to introduce her to my 5th grade students in an accessible way, while helping to reinforce certain elements and principles integral to 5th grade art education. I want to give a HUGE thank you and shout out to the blog Art Room Britt based in Germany for the idea for this lesson: https://artroombritt.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2018-11-27T14:45:00-08:00&max-results=25. She has some great lessons to share, so please do check her out!

Yayoi Kusama’s art installation All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins

Goals – Students should…


  • The following elements: color, line and shape
  • The following principles: pattern, repetition and movement


  • What contrasting/complimentary colors are
  • How to repeat shapes to create pattern
  • How to recognize movement in line

Be able to:

  • Recognize features of Kusama’s work
  • Create a work of art featuring pattern, movement and contrasting color

Objectives – Students will:

  • Explore the work of Yayoi Kusama, especially her pumpkins
  • Discuss her use of line, color, shape, pattern, repetition and movement
  • Integrate line, color, shape, pattern, repetition and movement into one pumpkin design

Resources and materials –

  • Exemplars of Kusama’s work and a brief bio
  • Colored construction paper (teacher decides the size that works best)
  • Pencils
  • Black sharpies
  • Stencils with a variety of designs
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Questions – (The first few while observing Kusama’s work)

  • What do you notice about Kusama’s art?
  • What sorts of characteristics does she tend to use a lot of?
  • What do you notice about the colors she uses?
  • Does she use more geometric or more organic lines?
  • Can you point to any patterns?
  • What repeats?
  • What would it feel like to you to walk among so many large, polka-dotted pumpkins?
  • What are contrasting (complementary) colors? Why?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand and describe the concepts of line, color, shape, pattern and movement?
  • Begin to recognize the key characteristics of Kusama’s work?
  • Integrate deliberate use of line, color, shape, pattern, repetition and movement in their individual pumpkin designs?


  • Group discussions
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • Personal focus and risk-taking
  • At least one finished pumpkin design
Two examples of 5th grade Yayoi Kusama-style pumpkins
Two examples of 5th grade Yayoi Kusama-style pumpkins
Five examples of 5th grade Yayoi Kusama-style pumpkins

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