#SOL14 - Portrait of the Self

Yesterday I wrote about a field trip to the Amon Carter Museum, and how two of the experiences there have resonated with me through the years. I failed to share a photograph of the sculpture I referenced yesterday, but it's worth a look:

A Bronc Twister, Charles M. Russell; Amon Carter Museum

The second piece from that field trip that I use often in class is titled Ease, by William Michael Harnett.

Ease, by William Michael Harnett; Amon Carter Museum

Although it may not look it, Ease is a type of self portrait. The subject of this work commissioned the painting to tell a story about his life, without needing to appear in the painting itself. When I was gathered with my young writers at the museum, we stood in front of the painting, making a list of all the objects we could see and brainstorming ideas of what type of life the person owning these objects may have led. They noticed the fine details; some talked about the discoloration in the papers, others were distressed over the lit cigar sitting on top of what appears to be a newspaper. We wondered aloud about the envelope at the center of the portrait, as well as the array of instruments. Afterward, they were given time to write a quick creative story about the person behind the portrait.

I sometimes use this painting with my writers at the beginning of the year or when we're struggling to find ideas for writing. By giving them time to draw, create a collage, or use digital media to create a representation of themselves -- in objects that portray their lives -- each student quickly comes up with a long list of subjects, ideas, memories, and passions that make up the details of his or her life. From there, we're off and running with multiple story ideas. It's a surefire why to kickstart any struggling writer's creativity.

This activity is a favorite of mine for self-reflection, as well. Although I can't pinpoint why this painting resurfaces in my mind over and over again, it has, and each time I find myself thinking about Harnett's work, I take some time to think about what would be found in my own similar portrait. Through the years some things change, of course -- I've traded in stacks of baby diapers for my childrens' college paperwork, for one! But many remain the same: dogeared journals, favorite books, a simple sapphire and diamond ring given to me by my parents on my thirteenth birthday, to name a few.

My newest idea is to take these multiple journal entries from over the years, turn them into poems, add photographs, and create a timeline of my life. As always, I am amazed by how contemplating works of art acts as a catalyst for my creativity as a writer. Ironic, since I know how helpful it is to my students. Perhaps I need to remember that what is good for creativity is always good, no matter the age of the artist.


  1. What wonderful writing ideas! So creative!

  2. I love how music and writing are entwined in the second piece (ease), and how ideas seem to be flowing off the table, off the frame, off the mind of the artist.