ArtsConnectEd/ArtsNet Minnesota

Art and Artists
 Africa, Sierra Leone
 Chuck Close
 James Ensor
 Frank Gehry
 Robert Gwathmey
 Marsden Hartley
 Pepón Osorio
 James Rosenquist
 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art? Environment Designing Spaces and Places
Introduction to



To provide students with opportunities to explore how artists have expressed identity through their work, to look at ways identity is expressed in our culture, and to allow students to reflect on how their own identity can be expressed.


What is identity? Webster's dictionary states identity is "the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. Identity begins with our names, addresses, family groups, and cultural backgrounds, but how does it grow from there? Is identity how we see ourselves or how others see us? Is identity what we are or what we would like to be? Do we form our own identity or do others form it for us? Can identity be changed? Why is it important to express our identity?

Artists express their identities when they make art. Do they give us clues about themselves and their identities in their art? How have these artists expressed identities through their works?

  • Frank Gehry often uses images and forms of fish in his work. Why do you think he does that? What symbols did James Rosenquist include in his painting, World's Fair Mural? What do these symbols represent? What symbols does Pepón Osorio use in the sculpture 100% Boricua? Why?

  • Chuck Close's Big Self Portrait and Kiki are painted in very different ways. Can you guess why?

  • Consider Marsden Hartley's Portrait. Does this look like the portraits you have seen before? What makes this work a "portrait?"

  • The Sande Mask and Intrigue both focus on masks. What is a mask? Describe the differences between the masks shown in these two works. Describe the similarities.

Ask students to list things that form their identities such as names, addresses, family groups, peer groups, and cultural backgrounds. Ask students to voluntarily share subjects from their lists to make a larger class list of forms of identity. Discuss items that many people have in common from their lists.

Give each group of students one question about identity from the introduction and discussion questions. Have each group choose one person to write down the discussion and another to make an oral report back to the class.


Write questions from the introduction and discussion questions on slips of paper, one for each class member. Each student will choose one of the questions from a hat and write a page in his or her journal about it. During class, ask students to share what they learned from writing about identity. Ask for volunteers to share responses to the questions.


  1. Africa, Sierra Leone, Sande Society Mask, 20th century, wood, raffia, H. 13 in. MIA

  2. Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait, 1968, acrylic on canvas 107 1/2 x 83 1/2 in.

  3. Chuck Close, Kiki, 1993, oil on canvas, 100 x 84 1/8 in. WAC

  4. James Ensor, Intrigue, 1911, oil on canvas, H. 37 1/4 in., W. 44 1/2 in. MIA

  5. Frank Gehry, Standing Glass Fish, 1986, wood, glass, steel, silicone, Plexiglas, rubber, 264 x 168 x 102 in. WAC

  6. Robert Gwathmey Nobody Around Here Calls Me Citizen, 1943, oil on canvas, 14 x 17 in. WAM

  7. Marsden Hartley, Portrait, 1914-15, oil on canvas, WAM

  8. Pepón Osorio, 100% Boricua, 1991, wood, glass, Plexiglas, paper, fabric, metal, plastic, 79 3/8 x 33 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. WAC

  9. James Rosenquist, World's Fair Mural, 1964, oil on Masonite, 240 x 240 in. WAM

  10. Ernest Whiteman, Untitled, steel and neon. H. 73, W. 44 1/2 in. MIA
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Activities, Gallery, Vocabulary

Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Identity
Identity Activities | Identity Gallery |
Identity Vocabulary