Menlo School Faculty & Staff


What historical factors contributed to the birth of the self-portrait as a genre in 15thC Western Europe, its explosion in popularity in the 20thC? What might be the causes and consequences of our contemporary culture’s fascination with the selfie, the memoir, and the “me”-focused podcasts, videos, and live-streams? How does this trend towards self-representation in the arts and media relate to current social justice calls for identity-based visibility and representation?

Through the pursuit of questions about self-representation such as these, this interdisciplinary Humanities course is designed to increase students’ ability to appreciate and understand literature, the visual arts, and music, while also enhancing their research and writing (both analytical and personal) skills. In the third quarter, we first study the birth of the self-portrait during the European Renaissance c.1500. We then leap ahead to read Oscar Wilde’s queer landmark novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and learn about Freudian id and its influence on the Modernist self-portraits of the 20th-c. The 4th quarter is devoted to British feminist Virginia Woolf’s extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) and Korean-American author Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H Mart (2021).

For the culminating project, all students will create their own self-portrait (visual, written, musical, or otherwise) and write an extended, historically- and theoretically-contextualized artist statement essay to accompany their piece. Honors students’ essays will be 10-12 pgs, while non-Honors essays are 6-8 pgs.

Instructor: Ms. Gertmenian

Students in grades 10-12 may elect to take this course for History credit (with or without an Honors designation in History only). Students in 12th grade may elect to take this course for English credit.