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

We often read, look towards, and listen to others in order to understand our particular experiences and sense of self. We seek out stories and images with which we identify, that expand the resources we have to articulate ourselves. The stories and visual images we find often do more to complicate, influence, and expand our sense of self than to directly reflect it. This process also builds and complicates how we understand the experiences of others, connecting ourselves to one other—across different times, place, and identities—in important and surprising ways.

In this research process, we discover that our personal identity is neither a fixed concept, nor separate from the influences and experiences we share with others. Rather, our identities are constantly changing. They are collaboratively shaped through the narratives we borrow and transform from the world around us.

We could then consider self-portraiture and autobiography as processes of selecting, collecting, and organizing the texts with which we identify, and the library an example of the resources we can access to do so. Library collections reflect stories, images, knowledge, and information that are available to and valued by given communities: while these resources can at times limit the narratives and concepts to which a reader has access, they also offer materials and tools that can be reorganized, reinterpreted, and expanded to new uses. As we use stories, visuals, and the library to better understand ourselves, the texts and images we find might ultimately tell us less about who "we" are than pose the question of who "we" could be.

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

Bibliography as Self-Portrait

Ligon's artworks are much like bibliographies: his paintings connect multiple texts, art works, and popular cultural sources. By doing so, he makes his practice of reading visible, while also sharing a reading list or bibliography among his viewers.

Ligon frequently quotes key figures in the African American political, cultural and literary traditions such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Richard Pryor; alongside paradigmatic figures of modernist literature such as Gertrude Stein. Questions about the forms and stakes of this bibliography–as–autobiography are central to Ligon’s work. As Ligon weaves between multiple canons or traditions, he suggests that he is not at home in any one tradition and yet each contribute to the ways he writes and unwrites his identity.

Today "bibliography" refers to a list of books or the literature of a particular subject; but its root words ('biblio–graphy') literally mean the writing of books. This connection evokes how Ligon's work not only gathers existing sources, but also actively writes its own narratives and histories.

— Making a Self-Portrait through Bibliography

Create your self-portrait through making a bibliography.

  1. Use library resources to help you research into a particular person, author, time period, etc.

    Assemble 5-7 titles that you feel reveal something about you. Think as broadly or narrowly as you need to about the kinds of texts to compile; these can be books of poetry, songs, films, biographies, short stories, novels, etc.

  2. Take a few moments to reflect on the process of researching and compiling these sources for your autobiography. Why did you choose these particular titles and what do they ultimately reveal about you? What did you have to leave out?

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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