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Who Am I?: Self-Portraits in Art and Writing

Designed to help middle school students begin to answer the important question "Who Am I?," these lessons use self-portraits from the National Gallery of Art's collection to inspire students to create their own self-portraits, poems, speeches, and letters.

Van Gogh’s Self-Portraits

Grade Level: 5–8

Students will examine Vincent van Gogh's self-portraits and letters to better understand the artist’s life story and personality. Then, they will paint two Van Gogh-style self-portraits to show two parts of their own personality and write a letter describing the one that reveals their “true character” best. This lesson also contains opportunities for French language integration.

Two Faces of Paul Gauguin

Grade Level: 5–8

Students will examine Paul Gauguin's self-portraits and letters to learn about the individual who created them and consider how first-person art forms (self-portraits, diaries, letters, journals) aid the process of self-discovery. Then, they will compare two of his self-portraits using a Venn diagram and produce their own symbolic self-portrait.

A Look at Judith Leyster

Grade Level: 5–8

Students will identify clues and adjectives to describe Judith Leyster’s personality and then develop and refine her characterizations through poetry writing. Using Leyster’s monogram as their inspiration, they will then shift the focus to themselves by creating their own monogram and then writing a self-reflective poem about themselves.

David Alfaro Siqueiros Speaks

Grade Level: 5–8

Students will consider the social and political motivations of David Alfaro Siqueiros to help them analyze his self-portrait. With his writing as their guidance, students will write and deliver a persuasive speech and create a propaganda poster about a current issue they care about.

Andy Warhol/Digital Self-Portraits

Grade Level: 5–8

Students will be introduced to the life and art of Andy Warhol as a way of considering photography as a self-portrait medium. After viewing and discussing other artists’ photographic self-portraits, students will create their own digitally manipulated photographic self-portrait and then write a poem to describe the point of view taken in their digital work of art.

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