Graves Stratus


Abstract color field painting.

Nancy Graves
b. 1939 Pittsfield, MA; d. 1995 New York, NY
Stratus, 1977
Oil and encaustic on canvas
71 x 53 inches
Accession date: 2001
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Gurrentz
© Nancy Graves Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


Visual Arts

Grade Range



Critical analysis


Museum trip


Chart paper

About the Artist

Nancy Graves was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1939. Graduating from Vassar College in 1961, she went on to earn her MFA from Yale University. Her classmates included artists Robert Mangold, Rackstraw Downes, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Janet Fish, as well as Richard Serra with whom she was married for six years.

Her body of work included sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints. She also produced five avant-garde films and created innovative set designs. In 1969, at age 29, she became the youngest person to ever have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Her premature death from cancer at the age of 54 ended a brilliant career.

Learning Goal

To use critical analysis to describe the characteristics of the abstract painting Stratus by Nancy Graves.

I Can Statement

I can use critical analysis to describe the characteristics of the abstract painting Stratus by Nancy Graves.


Critical analysis, realistic, abstract, critique, texture 


  • Define and discuss critical analysis.
  • Introduce or review the vocabulary.
  • Point out that the artist was born in Massachusetts.
  • Elicit information about Massachusetts from the class (location, climate, capital city).
  • Discuss and explain the concepts of realistic and abstract art.
  • Is the painting more realistic or more abstract? Explain.
  • Have the class describe the colors (warm, cool, bright or dull).
  • Describe the emotions evoked in you by the colors (happy, sad or excited)? Explain.
  • Does the painting show motion or energy? Explain.
  • Ask the group what the artist’s mood might have been when she painted the piece.
  • What do you suppose the artist was trying to express in this painting?
  • Point out the texture (smooth, bumpy, thick, or thin).
  • Have the class describe the shapes (organic or geometric).
  • Ask for a description of the lines (straight, wavy or squiggly).
  • This painting reminds me of (fireworks, tracks or a finger painting).
  • Give the painting a new title and explain your choice.


Elicit critiques (I liked or disliked the painting because ...); record the responses.


I like or dislike abstract art because …

Florida Standards

Florida Visual Arts Standards Grades K-5

  • Vocabulary: VA.1.C.3.1 / VA.2.C.3.1 / VA.3.C.3.1 / VA.4.C.3.1 / VA.1.S.1.4/ VA.2.S.1.4 / VA.3.S.1.4 / VA.4.S.1.4 / VA.5.S.1.4
  • Interpret and Reflect: VA.K.C.1 .2 / VA.1.C.1.2 / VA.2.C.1.2 / VA.3.C.1.2 / VA.4.C.1.2 / VA.5.C.1.2
  • Artist’s intent: VA.5.C.3.2
  • Critique art: VA.3.C.3.3 / VA.4.C.3.3 / VA.5.C.3.3
  • Identify shapes: MAFS.K.G.1.2 / MAFS.4.G.1.2 / MAFS.5.G.2.4
  • Florida Visual Arts Standards Grades 6-8

Vocabulary: VA.68.C.3.1 

  • Interpret and Reflect: VA.68.C.1.2
  • Artist’s intent: VA.68.S.1.5
  • Describe art from selected cultures: VA.68.H.1.1
  • Critique art: VA.68.C.3.3

Florida Visual Arts Standards Grades 9-12

  • Interpret and Reflect: VA.912.C.1
  • Vocabulary: VA.912.C.3.1
  • Describe art from selected cultures: VA.912.H.1
  • Critique art: VA.912.C.3
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