This summer, I am working with the Syracuse University Art Museum to create English-specific teaching resources. The goal is to make the museum’s collections more accessible to instructors for both teaching and research purposes. The job came with the underlying assumption that artwork is a valuable tool for all kinds of academic or humanistic endeavors: close reading, interpretation, question-asking, theory application, etc.

As I dug around in the collection, I came across a piece by Louisa Chase, “Baby, Baby” (1991) and had a breakthrough moment. The abstract work, and Chase generally, uses geometric shapes to shadow or mimic forms–in this case, rectangles and squares to mimic a baby–and chaotic, heavy lines to disrupt the image. The work is striking in itself, but I was inspired by the way in which it perfectly represents the Lacanian idea of the “Mirror Stage.”

A professor I work closely with describes pre-Mirror Stage identity as the formless, wild, confusing, cloudy, and chaotic experiences of an infant’s sense of “self.” And Chase’s work shows that exactly, without the use of so-called “high theory.” I was excited to show my professor, who was equally excited, and I went on to develop an entire module on the “Mirror Stage” and Identity out of paintings, photographs, cartoons, and other artworks of diverse mediums.

This module, once completed, will hopefully help to illuminate Lacan’s theory by showing how humans find (or construct) their identity via images, representations, objects, and other things on the outside. I’m excited to continue to research the collection this summer to identify other artworks that can help students and scholars achieve understanding, find inspiration, and communicate ideas.

– Madeline Krumel (Ph.D. Student)