Reading Resources — Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon is an artist whose work uses strategies of reading to reframe historical and cultural narratives. Ligon's works are generally composed with quotes from writers who range across modernist, popular, and specifically African American cultural traditions. His works grasp language as material and subject matter, and elicit incisive inquiries into issues of visibility, race, identity, and history.

For additional biographical information and definitions of key terms, please refer to Additional Materials.

Guiding Questions

How Can The Master’s Tools Dismantle The Master’s House?

Glenn Ligon painted “How Can the Master’s Tools Dismantle the Master’s House?” in 1990, during the period of his first experimentations with written language in painting.

The painting cites a historic 1984 speech by the poet and activist Audre Lorde, titled, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Ligon transforms Lorde’s statement by turning it into a question and by reframing it within a painterly context. As Ligon’s question prompts many more questions, we ask what it tells us about the process of reading and learning.

You can read a copy of Lorde's speech and learn more about its context online.

Activities

The following exercises are structured to sequentially build on each other. We encourage you to consider how their learning objectives develop as you adapt these exercises to your teaching activities.

Activity Group 1: Reading is a Creative Act

We often assume that an author’s voice is a definitive authority, or that images convey true or trustworthy representations. Yet texts and images need not be read as imposing unquestionable knowledge, but rather, as invitations for dialog.

Activity Group 2: Language Shapes our Ways of Perceiving the World, Ourselves and Each Other

This activity group explores how language can both restrict and expand our ways of understanding and acting in the world. We focus on Ligon's 1990 painting “Untitled (I Feel Most Colored When I am Thrown Against a Sharp White Background),” which is based on a line from Zora Neale Hurston's How it Feels to Be Colored Me.

Activity Group 3: We Shape our Stories Through the Words of Others

In this section, we explore how our identities are shaped through the ideas and stories of those around us. We then consider how identity is not static but rather shaped by our contexts and conversations with others. In doing so, we focus on several examples in which Ligon creates a self-portrait out of the words of others

Additional Material

In this section, Reading Resources also covers a Text Bibliography of writing that Glenn Ligon cites directly in his paintings, as well as an Image Bibliography of visual works that resonate with the artist’s practice.

Ways Of Reading focuses on Glenn Ligon’s artist’s book, A People on the Cover (London: Ridinghouse 2015), with readings contributed by artist Moyra Davey, literary critic Tobi Haslett, designer Joseph Logan, and artist Byron Kim. Each introduce a distinct perspective and strategies that readers can use to decode the many texts and images they encounter.

Colophon

Reading Resources: Glenn Ligon was produced by Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) in collaboration with Wendy Tronrud (A.R.T. Education Consultant) in summer 2016.

Contributors to Ways of Reading:
Moyra Davey
Tobi Haslett
Byron Kim
Joseph Logan.

Web programming by Jeff Khonsary.

Copyedited by Sara Jane Stoner.

A.R.T. Staff: Alejandro Cesarco, Kylie Gilchrist, Jo Stewart.

A.R.T. acknowledges the invaluable generosity, assistance, and enthusiasm of all who contributed to Reading Resources production:
REGEN PROJECTS
LUHRING AUGUSTINE (specially Lauren Wittles and Lisa Vargehese)
RIDINGHOUSE PUBLICATIONS
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY’S ART + EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, Jessica Hamlin
A.R.T. Board of Directors
and most specially, Glenn Ligon.

We also acknowledge the assistance and support of institutions who have granted permission for image use:
ALEXANDER GRAY
ANDREA ROSEN GALLERY / FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES FOUNDATION
GREENE NAFTALI
JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY
LEHMANN MAUPIN
MITCHELL-INNES & NASH
MURRAY GUY
SIKKEMA JENKINS

Copyright © Art Resources Transfer, Inc 2016.

All images are protected under copyright by the original rights holders.

A.R.T. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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