Jackie: Flashbulb Memory Activity

Exploring Powerful Images and Memories
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Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964, ©AWF

This lesson explores the phenomena of Flashbulb Memory and the ability of powerful images in history to bring back personal memories. Students are introduced to the historical context behind Warhol’s portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy and are able to make comparisons and to write about their own memories of events (this lesson is a good introduction to the unit lessons History and Memory).

Grades:

6-12 

Subjects:

History, Social Studies, English, Creative Writing, Art 

Suggested Time Frame:

1-2 class periods 

Objectives:

  • Students will infer emotions from visual clues
  • Students will differentiate between Flashbulb Memory and Collective Memory
  • Students will discuss and share responses
  • Students will examine cause and effect
  • Students will analyze the cause and effect of images upon memory
 
Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964, ©AWF
Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964, ©AWF

Discussion Questions: 

1. Look at the images; who is this woman? If you do not know who this is, try to guess. For example, is there any evidence that she is famous?

2. Warhol cropped this image from larger pictures of events. Speculate what is happening in the background.

3. Describe this woman’s emotions. What clues do the paintings give to make you think this?

Andy Warhol quote:  

 

“When President Kennedy was shot that fall, I heard the news over the radio while I was alone painting in my studio… I’d been thrilled having Kennedy as president; he was handsome, young, smart – but it didn’t bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radios were programming everybody to feel so sad… It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from the thing.”

Andy Warhol, POPism: The Warhol ‘60s, by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, Harcourt, Brace, Janovich (New York, 1980) p. 60. 

Points of View: 

 

Well, Kennedy was sort of this savior, this prince, and they called his administration Camelot. And when he died it seemed that he took the dreams – I was thirteen – the dreams of the future generations were shattered when he was killed… I’ve never looked at government and politics in quite the same way after that. I no longer think that our elected officials are competent.

Interview with New York woman, Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, Columbia University Press (New York, 1998). 
 

Her face is as familiar to me as that of my mother. As a small child I even associated Jacqueline Kennedy with Mom: poised and elegant, with the same thick dark hair, tailored suits, pillbox hats and white gloves. But here, Jackie seems less a maternal object than a religious icon. The thirty-two jewel-colored squares look like a wall of stained glass. Do the images reveal the gracious First Lady or the stunned widow? The photos seem to tell both stories. Do the multiple images enable us to empathize with Jackie, or do they destroy her uniqueness by making her a commodity? If she has become a brand-name product, like Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyns, can we ever recover the “real” Jackie? And what are we, as insatiable consumers of gossip about her and the Kennedy family?

Paula Kane, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh, quotation from Point of View Labeling Project, The Andy Warhol Museum, 2001. 
 

Warhol rendered Jackie–celebrity/victim–in his standard grid, repeating images as if they were mug shots, frames of documentary film footage, or a fan’s clippings. Repetition implies mourning: the Dallas scene is a trauma, and mourning takes the form of recycling and recall, a process that unsettles chronology . . . Repetition implies commodification: Jackie no longer has control over her own image . . . Repetition implies obsession: the Jackie photos are cropped–narrowing the focus onto Jackie alone, myopically isolating her from context . . . A narrative emerges, and it is not the story of Jackie’s life or the growth of Jackie’s soul–but the narrative of the image and of our relation to the image.

Wayne Koestenbaum, writer, from Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon Farrar, Straus & Giroux, (New York, 1995) p. 132. 
Procedure

Materials:

Warhol’s Jackie paintings as examplesComputers with internet connection and printerMarkers
Flashbulb memory handout Photocopy machineScissors
Colored paperGlue or glue sticksTape
The attacks on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001
The attacks on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001

Procedure:  

  1. Introduce Flashbulb Memory and Collective Memory:
  2. Flashbulb Memory: the recall of very specific images or details surrounding a vivid, rare or significant personal event.

    Vivid and long-lasting, Flashbulb Memories are extraordinarily complete and durable and often mark the chapters of a life. Sometimes Flashbulb Memories concern personal events, such as an early morning telephone call that tells of the birth of a baby or the sudden death of a loved one. Others involve news of national importance or significant events such as the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., or the Challenger space-shuttle explosion and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

    In the 1970s scientists speculated about the nature of this memory phenomenon, hypothesizing that these memories resulted from a special physiological mechanism that was triggered by events that were highly consequential and emotional for an individual. The individual’s resulting memory was unusually salient and often included such intricate personal details as where they were, what they were doing and what outfit they were wearing.

    Later studies suggest that although there is not such a special memory mechanism, almost everyone experiences extremely vivid memories, and some of these “flashbulb” memories are extraordinarily accurate and virtually permanent.

 
Flooding at the Sendai Airport in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011
Flooding at the Sendai Airport in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011

Collective Memory:

 

 

“Collective Memory has been defined as “an image bequeathed to posterity.” It is shared memory, and it is important. Historians may question the accuracy of an individual’s memory, but they often rely on collective memory when assessing the meaning of the past. This classification of memory begins as a mixture of both actual experiences and communicated information about experiences. As time goes by the importance of firsthand experience lessens and communicated information becomes dominant.”

Connover Hunt, JFK for a New Generation, The Sixth Floor Museum and Southern Methodist University Press, (Texas, 1996), p.17. 

 

2. Use the handout to write about a Flashbulb Memory of an event or an important moment that had an impact on your life.

3. Pair with someone and share your response.

4. Discuss the following questions: what are some events that have affected all of your lives? What experience(s) have you lived through that you wouldn’t want other people to forget? What are your personal memories of that moment? Make a group list of the events. Pick one that seems to have the broadest impact.

5. Define Collective Memory as a group using the written responses to support your definition.

Extension:

Present the following quote:

 

“In the real world, something is happening and no one knows what is going to happen. In the image-world, it has happened and it will forever happen in that way.”

Susan Sontag, On Photography, Doubleday (New York, 1977), p. 168. 
  1. Discuss what the “image world” is.
  2. Collect reproductions from the internet and media representing the news event chosen from step number 4 above. Work in small groups to crop, copy, enlarge or reduce the pictures in preparation for a repetitive collage. Using Warhol’s Jackies as a guide, collage and repeat the images using different color variations and compositions. Mount the finished project on a large piece of paper or matte board. Each group should prepare a short artist statement.
 
Assessment

Wrap-up:

have a final class critique looking at the finished projects and having each group read its artist statement to class. Discuss the effect repetition has in each work. As in Jackies – does repetition strengthen or weaken the emotional value of the work? In what ways does your artwork reflect Collective Memory?

Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.

Critical Thinking
Communication
Historical Context
Media and Related Items
Collection
View Jackie on display at The Warhol Museum
View Jackie on display at The Warhol Museum
Timeweb
Timeweb: 1965
Timeweb: 1965
Audio
Flashbulb Memories