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Telling the Tale of the “Other”: The Effect of Artist Identity on Storytelling

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Language Arts And English +6 Age Level Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

This set of activities is designed to encourage students to think critically about how an artist’s race, background, and experiences might impact their ability to fairly and accurately tell the story of a different person or group - an "other." 

Specifically, students will look at the creations of two white men - the painting Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington by George Catlin and the novella The Pearl by John Steinbeck - to analyze how the whiteness of these two artists might have affected their ability to fairly portray the indigenous people they sought to memorialize. Using primary source texts written by the artists themselves, students will conduct an inquiry into the possible motives and biases of these men in order to assess whether they, as white outsiders to the groups on which they focused, did or even could tell their stories accurately. The question students will be tasked with answering in writing as a culminating exercise is whether a white man can fairly and accurately tell the story of an indigenous people? 

In terms of purpose, the study of the painting is intended to supplant a traditional anticipation guide to help students prepare to read The Pearl and also to provide a lens through which to analyze the text.

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