Selfies Old and New: The Self-Portrait in Visual Art & Poetry

Course Code: 
ENLT 2555
Lisa Spaar

We live in an age of easy and ubiquitous self-portrayal.  Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and other digital and cellular “galleries” allow a protean array of venues in which to post, curate, manipulate, filter, and remove visual images and verbal profiles of “the self” with what seems like a faster than real-time alacrity.  This proliferation of self-portraiture is so rampant that it’s possible for viewers and readers to become inured to its magic, craft, and power.

Self-portrayal is not new.  Since antiquity, literary and visual artists have depicted themselves in their productions, a fascination that has continued unabated into the twenty-first century, spurred by advances in photography, imaging, digitalization, communication, information systems, and the widespread availability of the Internet.   In this course we will look at the “selfie” from antiquity to the present, in poetry (from Sappho to Charles Wright and Kendrik Lamar) and visual art (from early Egyptian art through Rembrandt, Dűrer, Vigée-Lebrun, Kahlo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Basquiat, Sherman, Bacon, Morimura, Tracy Emin, and others).  We will visit the Fralin Museum of Art,  make forays into the Art History department, be perhaps be visited by poets, artists and others.  In general, we will explore what we can learn from our human fascination with self-portrayal.  We will investigate the ways in which poets and visual artists portray the self through manifold lenses, indirection, and what Anne Carson would call poetic “ruses."  Although the ostensible subject is the artist him or herself, looking closely at these texts will allow us to explore the intention, too, of foregrounding the processes by and reasons why we make art.  THIS COURSE FULFILLS THE COLLEGE SECOND WRITING AND HUMANITIES REQUIREMENTS.