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Reflective identity: a study of perception.

Have you ever listened to your voice on tape and said, "Is this how I really sound?" As art teachers, we think in a visual world, so I propose this question, "Does the image that I have of myself match the image that others see of me?" This statement set this lesson in motion. I decided to create a more innovative approach to portraiture, not how we see ourselves, but how others see us.

Seeing through Other Eyes

Throughout history, artists have strived to leave their mark on the world. One of the core human desires is to be remembered, to shout to the world "Look I was here, remember me!" Do artists leave the right impression? Do they leave a representation of whom they truly were or do they leave a composite of how their lives were viewed by others? I have posed this question to my students in this lesson. How do you see yourself and how does that correlate to how others see you? The core objective of this project is for students to explore what identity truly is, and to incorporate the many meanings of reflection to compose a unique self-portrait.

It is my goal as an art educator to introduce the essential question to myself: What do I want my students to gain from this exploration of portraiture? I realized that many of my students had assumptions of how they thought others saw them. This is when I decided to look at the idea of "reflective identity" or how others perceive us.

Thinking in Motion

I begin every project by asking prompting questions and presenting basic information such as a definition. It is important to remember that the idea will make or break the final product. Allowing time for brainstorming now will create a dialog with your students while helping them talk to their peers. Encourage students to look beyond traditional concepts of reflection.

Re.flec.tive adj 1: Relating to, produced by, or resulting from reflection (syn: brooding, broody, contemplative, meditative, musing, pensive, ruminative. 2: capable of physically reflecting light or sound; "a reflective surface." 3: devoted to matters of the mind; "the reflective type."

I.den.ti.ty: 1: The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group. 2: The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality. 3: the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized by or known.


Once students identify what reflective identity is, each should brain-storm with the following prompts:

* How do I define myself?

* What are the most important aspects of my life?

* Am I defined by more physical or emotional characteristics? Who defines me?

* How does each of these people or groups see me?

* Without physical objects or surroundings, would I still be the same?


* List ten physically reflective surfaces.

* Look past actual reflective surfaces, what else in your environment reflects you?

* Of whom are you a reflection?

* Who in your life is a reflection of you?

* How do your actions reflect who you are?

Production Possibilities

Students should begin by creating multiple thumbnail sketches and visual ideas based on their written exploration. You must push their ideas conceptually, ask questions, encourage combination of ideas, or show them examples of how other artists have been innovative. Within these thumbnails, students must express each individual concept and how the idea is illustrated. Students should also address composition, light source, color, and technique. Media should be open to exploration; however, the instructor must address artistry in any ongoing project.

Midway through the project, assess student work with a midpoint grade. Perform a quick individual critique addressing the following topics: use of media, artistry, color, composition, and adherence or evolution of original idea. Keep them on target to a successful end product.

Sketchbook Extensions

Students should be encouraged to keep an ongoing sketchbook or process diary with their in-class project. Consider the following prompts for creativity, life drawing skills, and portrait skills:

* Create a portrait of yourself now and how you see yourself in twenty years.

* Look at how M.C. Escher created portraits in reflective surfaces. Create a drawing of yourself in a unique surface.

* Look at Alice Neel's portraits. Notice how she looks at the imperfections of her models. Create a drawing of yourself exposing your imperfections.

* Create a portrait of yourself using dramatic chiaroscuro (treatment of light and dark). Use an unusual light source.

* A self-portrait does not always have to utilize the face. Consider other means to represent yourself. Think outside the box.


At the end of the unit, students should participate in a classroom critique. Have each student discuss and share with other students the process that was used to create their work. Once the critique is completed, have students create a self-evaluation of their work. Consider the following prompts:

* Discuss the process of your original idea and its evolution in the artmaking process.

* What do you believe are the most creative and innovative aspects of your work?

* What are the strengths of your reflective identity portrait?

* What are the weaknesses of your reflective identity portrait? How could you overcome these weak-nesses?

* How specifically is reflective identity represented in your work?

* On a scale of one to one hundred, how would you rate your finished work based on composition, color, creativity, use of time, and overall finished work? Why?


Students apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.


M. C. Escher self-portrait, p-escher1.htm

Alice Neel,

Nicole D. Brisco is an art teacher at Pleasant Grove High School, Texarkana, Texas.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:High School
Author:Brisco, Nicole D.
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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