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. In writing a text or composing an image, an author opens a discussion that grants the reader both the responsibility and agency to respond.

In order to understand how reading is a creative act, we need to know how to approach a text creatively and critically. The creative reader actively participates in making meaning by judging, interpreting, and acting upon what she reads. By thus transforming a text’s meanings, the creative reader becomes the text’s co-author and continues to write it.

Glenn Ligon's methods of artistic creation offer us a useful model for creative and critical reading. Considering our Guiding Question posed by Ligon’s work, “How Can The Master’s Tools Dismantle the Master’s House?” we have identified several strategies the artist uses to formulate the inquiry of his painting:

Close Reading
Asking Essential Questions
Making Connections

These strategies demonstrate how reading enables Ligon to transform Lorde’s statement (“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”) into a question (“How can…?”).

We would also love to hear how you have used Reading Resources. Please share feedback and student work here.

Close Reading

Close reading is a process of reading and rereading a section of a text or image in order to develop a deeper understanding of its form and interpretive possibilities. Close Reading assumes that a text or visual’s meaning is not transparent nor purely literal. Rather, it approaches texts and visual images as a complex fabric of patterns and strangeness in which content (what a text says) and form (how a text says it) shape each other.

Close Readers begin this process by concentrating on the text or visual image’s form and language. Generating as many observations as possible about the text or visual image’s form, they identify patterns and strangeness that lead to further questioning and interpretive possibility.

Close reading and writing are integrally related: close reading should be a first step in the writing process; and close readers annotate the text, marking language and jotting down notes as they read and think through their questions, confusions, and interpretive possibilities. This is a creative act: it demonstrates how a reader’s sustained attention to a text or visual’s form can open up unexpected interpretations, both those intended and unintended by a writer or visual artist.

Using the process of close reading, begin with the question: "How can the master’s tools dismantle the master’s house?”

Before responding to Ligon’s question directly, first spend time annotating and close reading its language. This will help you have more to work with in your response. Write out Ligon’s question on a piece of paper and mark up or annotate it directly on the page.

First look up important or unknown words. In this case, look up “dismantle” in the dictionary (the Oxford English Dictionary is preferable). Are there unexpected nuances in this word’s definition? Does it have multiple definitions with some difference between them? Write down the definition(s) directly on your page.

Next, make observations about the question’s form or language. What do you observe or notice about this question? Write down all observations (nothing is too small).

Now take a look at the “master’s tools” and “master’s house” language. For each one, brainstorm any and all associations, images, and ideas that these terms bring up for you.

You may want to make a bubble map out of each one around which you can either write down or draw these associations, images, and ideas.

After spending some time unpacking and engaging with this question’s language, respond to it in a guided free-write using the associations you developed.

One way to do this is to write for at least five minutes, letting your thinking develop on the page. Don’t worry about correct grammar or spelling, just write.


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, with typography by Benedikt Reichenbach.

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:
LUHRING AUGUSTINE (specially Lauren Wittles and Lisa Vargehese)
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:

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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