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Uncovering America

Image Set
Expressing the Individual

Expanded Image Set

My Part of the Story: Exploring Identity in the United States lesson unit, Facing History and Ourselves

Critical Media Project, University of Southern California

Investigating Identity, MoMA Learning (Museum of Modern Art)

From Montaigne to E. B. White, Some Sound Advice on Writing the Personal Essay, National Endowment for the Humanities

Expressing the Individual: Identity Maps | Activity

How do you see yourself? How do others see you?

Using one of the templates available here (inspired by Marit Dewhurst), write words or phrases inside the outline that relate to your own identity or how you see yourself. Use the space outside the drawing to write down words or phrases that describe how you think people might see you.

If you included your communities—groups of people with whom you associate, like family, neighbors, or classmates—where would you place these groups on this map?

Expressing the Individual: Step Inside | Activity

Select a work of art that features people, such as those by Barkley Hendricks, Walker Evans, or Diane Arbus, and share the work with your students. Identify the various parts and elements of the artwork, then ask individuals to choose a person and “step inside” their point of view. Invite your students to use their imaginations and respond to the following prompts in writing or in small group discussion using evidence found in the work of art:

  • What might this person be thinking?
  • What might this person be feeling?
  • What might this person care about or value?

Encourage students to share their responses aloud with others, and see whether their classmates can guess the person about whom they might be speaking. Conclude by having a discussion about opportunities or situations when students could slow down and apply these questions in their daily lives. (Adapted from Harvard University Project Zero’s Step Inside thinking routine.)

Expressing the Individual: Words and Pictures | Activity

Clarissa Sligh, She Sucked Her Thumb, 19891989

Clarissa Sligh, She Sucked Her Thumb, 1989, cyanotype, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the Friends of the Corcoran Gallery of Art), 2015.19.4483

Many artists, including Deborah Luster, Jim Goldberg, and Clarissa Sligh, combine words with pictures in their art. Examine and compare works by these artists with your students. Why might the artist have used text alongside images? Where did they get their images and text, and why might that matter to the meaning of the work of art? What might the overall message of each artwork be? Share information as needed to help deepen your students’ understanding of the artworks.

Next, invite your students to explore their own identity using words and pictures. What do they want to communicate or explore about themselves through art? How will the source of their images and text contribute to the meaning of the work? Following the examples of Sligh, Luster, and Goldberg, students might recontextualize a childhood event or memory, write descriptive and interpretive text, or share a personal story.