In this session, we will look at portraits and self-portraits. Why? Portraits are images of people, so portraits are ultimately about us, or about how we see ourselves. In ways that are much more complex than we realise, we are constantly “reading” information about each other in our outward appearances – often without being aware that this is what we are doing.
Our sense of identity is, in part, bound up with what we look like. It is one aspect of how we define ourselves.
So, looking at faces will be our starting point, leading us later to talking about ourselves: who we are in our societies, how we see each other, how we perceive our world and how we live together.
To the Teacher
Asking questions is central to the unfolding process of discovering what art is. Both the questions you ask the students, and the students’ questions themselves, must open up – and not shut down – new ways of looking and understanding.
Before reading on, ask your class this question: Why look at art? Accept their answers. Some might be similar to the ideas found in the book; some might be very different. If you are accustomed to subjects where there is only one “right” answer to most questions, it can be difficult to meet the challenge of the many and varied responses your students may have to each artwork – especially when all of these might be valid in some way.
As an art teacher, you will need to be receptive to the ideas of each person, and actively encourage sincere responses. It is important, however, to emphasise that students should always be able to explain their ideas and responses by referring back to what they see in the artwork itself.