Fear and Gorey

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about Edward Gorey and his work. While he is one of the author/illustrators I am focusing on for my paper, I have been considering him within the context of popular scary movies. Edward Gorey is not an author who is full of “jumpscares,” that is the technique in horror films of having something jump out at you, usually unexpectedly. Certainly it is hard to compare an illustration to a scary scene, because, unless one is turning the pages of the book very fast, one usually has time to see the photo or illustration and not be that scared.

Though the mediums differ, I find Gorey’s work to slowly seep into the reader, and slowly gets scarier. It reminded me of a film that came out last year, entitled “The Witch.” The film was billed as supposedly the scariest film of all time (which I’m not sure is accurate) but it certainly slowly crept up on me, like the fog in an early morning. While the film was not altogether that scary (disclaimer: it was a little scary) it was more the setting in the cold New England woods, the fog, and the lack of music that set the stage. It was as if the point of the film was to make the viewer think something was going to scare them badly, but never quite did.

I feel similarly about Gorey. The Gashlycrumb Tinies are not exactly scary – but that doesn’t mean that don’t incorporate aspects of fear or horror. The combination of the Alphabetical story and young children meeting terrible ends creates a duality of fear: Firstly, the situations are scary. And secondly, whenever children are involved, the fear factor is heightened exponentially. Gorey plays into that duality.

 

Chapman Brothers and Humor in Art

The Chapman Brothers twenty first century depictions of Goya’s drawings can be seen as a major new interpretation of his work. For starters, the minimalist way they added the blue faces with large ears, is not just an artistic expression of change – it is more a new rendering of how we deal with sadness and difficult situations. While certainly there was some pushback from Goya purists, their renderings of his drawings provide a twenty first century vibe, and despite their bold colors, actually fit quite well within Goya’s frame work. For example, their depictions of war scenes with grotesque faces make us think more critically, perhaps, about the absurdity of war and violence. Poking fun, or at least asking the viewer for a second look, at serious or controversial topics is an essential part of what the Chapman’s are doing with their work in Goya.

To some, the Chapman brothers work is seen as defacement; as vandalism. I find it interesting that some purists refer to their art as vandalism, a demeaning way to describe a usually very intriguing art form. For Goya’s “Disasters of War” to be in conversation with Chapman’s work shows a serious need to discuss war from a new lens. This might be especially prevalent today, as the current political climate, with regards to both Russia and North Korea, seem to be escalating.

Collage and Change

When I think of collage, my biggest takeaway is the way an image or word changes when juxtaposed with other images. This reminded me of an old film experiment (of which I forget the name) where a close up of a woman’s face is immediately followed by a shot of something else – conjuring up feelings of loss, joy, and anger for the woman. However, the woman’s face never changes; the only thing that changed was the shot directly proceeding the woman. The reason I make this connection to collage is that the combination of words, phrases, or images put together create drastically different outcomes – which seems to be a major tenant of collage. This tenant speaks to the ways the human mind creates connections across seemingly disparate items or ideas. I also fond collage to let the viewer draw their own conclusions. The artist certainly needs to have a goal or message from their work, but the nature of collage leaves room for interpretation which is an aspect of collage that creates conversations between viewer and the artwork.

 

 

Surrealism in The Arrival

One theme that struck me as I was reading The Arrival by Shaun Tan was that throughout the book, there would be a number of illustrations that were believable for depicting everday life, and then there would be a few fantastical images interspersed between them. The distinction between the two types of images caught my eye as I was thinking about Tan’s definition of what it means to photograph through his illustrations. In the opening illustrations, Tan shows images of the family that would be expected to occur in everyday life. These images convey the emotions that the family was feeling and he does it in a way that successfully represents how a photographer would approach capturing these scenes. As the family begins walking through the city, the shadow of a large creature follows along:

This image is interesting because if a photographer was capturing this scene in real life, there would still be shadows in the image, but the shadows would be from other buildings and not a creature. Tan converts this image into the fantastic by transforming the shadows into something scary, the tail of a monster, that he never shows the full form of. This leaves the identity of the monster up to the audience, who have the ability to transform it into something extremely scary. The shadow of the monster parallels the worry felt by the family over the unknown as the father travels to a new country to find work.

Based on Tan’s work, it seems that he believes a good photograph can capture both the obvious and subtle aspects of emotion and desire. His incorporation of the fantastic and dreams that the characters have suggests that it is possible to capture these thoughts in a real photography.

Peter Rabbit and Reality

As a kid, I was certainly a big fan of Peter Rabbit. Up until this class, however, I had never paid much attention to the subtle social commentary that Beatrix Potter makes through her relatively simple and fun book. While in class we discussed the gender roles, as well as the possibility of the American/British coloring of clothing, I was particularly interested in the comparisons of being in the “rabbit hole” juxtaposed with Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

While we can view Peter Rabbit from the viewpoint of social commentary, we can also look it at from the perspective of a dreamlike place. For starters, the book begins in the rabbit hole – a place of safety within a world of danger – but the rabbit hole also represents the fear that permeates in a world that is not completely real. Alice in Wonderland begins with Alice following the White Rabbit into the rabbit hole – beginning an adventure that challenges our reality. Carroll’s book was published about forty years prior to Peter Rabbit, but the idea of a talking, walking rabbit may have begun with Lewis Carroll’s book.

There is something genuinely quite terrifying about Peter’s encounter with Mr. McGregor. Mr. McGregor, though just helping his garden, can be seen as a sort of guardian into reality. Peter yearns to escape from the cloistered world that his family’s rabbit hole represents, and thus makes the intrepid journey to the garden. The garden may be the gateway to reality, and it turns out that Peter might not be ready for it. He goes to bed at the end of the story drinking camomile tea, while the rest of his siblings have a relaxing evening with their mother.

My Personal Experience as a “Legal Alien” in the U.S.

This particular page really resonated with me. For those of you who do not know (or haven’t been able to tell from my accent), I am not American. I was born and raised in Tanzania and the first time I came to the U.S. was in 2013 to start my freshman year here at Hamilton. In order to be able to legally stay in the U.S., I had to get an F-1 student visa. To do this, I had to go for an interview with the American Embassy in Tanzania. My experience was actually exactly like this man’s. I went through all the emotions the man is going through, and weirdly enough, in pretty much the same order. Below is a shortened transcript of my interview in association with the images above:

Image 1-2: 
Lady: Your name and documents?
Me: (A little confused by the lack  of a greeting and unable to initially understand her strong American accent.)

Image 3-6: 
Lady: (Already visibly annoyed by me) Your name and documents and why you want a visa?
Me: Umm, Neema Lema. I got accepted into a college in the U.S. so I’d like a student visa.

Image 7-8: 
Lady: What proof do you have of not using this visa to permanently stay in the U.S. instead of you eventually returning to Tanzania as you should?
Me: Well, I have no family in the U.S. My entire family is here in Tanzania. They will be my reason for returning to Tanzania when I’m done studying.

Image 9: 
Lady: What will you study in college? And what exactly do you plan to do with your degree post graduate?
Me: I have always been interested in Economics, particularly Development Economics. Uhh, well, I am not sure now what I’ll do with my degree. I am hoping to use my years in college to figure that out.

Image 10-11: 
Lady: So what you do not know what you want to do with your life.
Me: (After being extremely shocked and offended by her response, I get incredibly worried and the worst thoughts all flood into my mind: Had I just messed up my chance of getting a visa because I didn’t have a solid life plan to lay out for her? She had denied almost 10 people in a row a visa just before me so why should she break her streak now? How do I tell my family I won’t be able to attend college after the high hopes and their huge financial investment in me? I have no back up plan if college doesn’t work out, oh Lord what now?!)

Image 12: 
Lady: (Silent, hasn’t said a single word to me in almost 3 minutes as she busily types things on her computer.)
Me: (Still drowning in my fears and worries for what seems like the longest wait of my life.)

Seeing as I am here at Hamilton, you can tell that this negative experience had a positive ending.

This interview was the first time in my life that I felt I was different. I had always lived in a place where everyone else was pretty similar to me. But after this interview, I felt the weight of a thousand negative labels on me- just like how they are weighing down the man in the images. I wore those labels when I started Hamilton and they made me insecure about my accent not being understood, offended by the African stereotypes people associated me with, and hurt when people did not believe that I was smart enough to belong at Hamilton simply because of where I am from. I am proud to say that I felt like I have shed all those negative labels and that helped me thrive at Hamilton. The only labels I will be wearing, and proudly so, in a few weeks will be “Hamilton graduate class of 2017,” “Economics major,” “Art minor,” “recipient of 12 academic honors.”

Shaun Tan’s lack of words helped me to easily draw on my own experience while reading this book, which elicited a greater emotional response from me than I would have had had Tan explicitly described this man’s personal experience. Tan’s powerful way of telling a story through images alone made this my favorite book of the semester.

Different Ways to Illustrate Emotions

The most impressive component of Shaun Tan’s work emanates from his capacity to convey wordless emotions. He does such a great job depicting anger, frustration, fear, sadness, confusion, helplessness and many more emotions merely though the illustrations of his characters. I noticed this in The Arrival but also in the short animated film The Lost Thing, which I watched after having read the book out of curiosity because I had never heard of Shaun Tan’s work previously. I noticed parallels between the two stories. For one, both depict a lonely and isolated character in a alienating landscape. Though it is easier to illustrate emotions on a human face as in The Arrival, Shaun Tan somehow manage s to give “the lost thing,” a faceless creature, emotions. I think although he is successful in both projects, conveying emotions through an animated film may be easier because the soundtrack is very telling of how the characters feel. Shaun Tan thus wonderfully illustrates emotions in both stories, though he does it slightly differently for his wordless book character and his wordless animated film character.

The Importance Of Real Life Imagery

This week more than most, I really appreciated seeing the artwork that was pulled out for us to view at the end of class. Being able to see real life imagery of immigrants in their daily routine made the book, “ The Arrival” much more impactful to me. While I greatly enjoyed the imagery and plotline within “The Arrival”, I found it difficult to relate and imagine the story in real life. However, the combination of talking about the book in class and then immediately viewing the pictures pulled out for us allowed me to have a better understanding of the messages Shaun Tan was aiming for.

In addition, since all our ancestors were immigrants at one point or another in our country’s history, the photos we saw on Monday and Wednesday morning particularly impacted me because I felt a connection to them. I have often heard stories of how my great-grandfather came to America and the hard conditions he went through in order to provide for his family. While each family’s immigration path is different, these photos definitely gave me a better understanding of what people went through during this time and the conditions they were forced to endure.

Immigration and New York

When we were looking at the photos throughout class today and in the Wellin, I was reminded of a similar reaction I had when I went to the Tenement museum in New York City.  After growing up in New York, I have been to Ellis Island a handful of times as well as the Tenement museum, and the history of New York cannot be complete without including and understanding the influence immigrants had on the development of society.  The Arrival  highlights the process and the struggles that the individuals faced when immigrating.

The reason why I initially thought of The Tenement Museum was because of the immediate reaction I had to this illustration from the book.

I believe that this image perfectly highlights the fears that these individuals had when they were walking into the great unknown of a huge city they did not understand.  Immigrants did not have it easy when they came to New York, and it was understandable to be so scared.  Not only were they in a new country, but as the Tenement Museum taught me they were forced into these small living spaces with people from all around the world with languages and cultures they did not understand.  Also on top of all of this, they were in a city that did not accept them or welcome them necessarily.

The way that Shaun Tan portrays this in his illustrations is incredible.  I think it is one of the best books we’ve read this class because I think he highlights the struggles in his images completely.  His balance between portraits and story images were so captivating, and I felt as though I was looking at a photo album at Ellis Island, not an illustrated book of a creative story.  I think that this was what made it such an intriguing story for me, and I would recommend it to someone who is also a history buff like myself.

Words Edit Memory: The Importance of Wordlessness

The reason, I find, that it’s occasionally grating to analyze creative work is when it operates on a primarily emotional level. There are poems, for example, that are easy to understand internally, but lose their meaning when you try to define them. At best you can capture their message, but in a concrete and superficial ay. At worst you lose track of what it made you feel in the first place.

The Arrival, as it stands, is a work that operates on an emotional level. It’s easy to understand because we’ve all experienced much of what’s portrayed– the domestic scenes with his family, the emotions that play out on his face. We’ve been children, same as his daughter, and we’ve been strangers, same as him. And what we haven’t personally experienced in terms of historical immigration, we are reminded of what we’ve learned about our country from elementary school-on-up about Ellis Island, factories, and tenements. Even if we don’t realize at first what we are reminded of, we feel the way we feel when we see off-the-boat photographs of vaguely menaced-looking turn-of-the-century immigrants. It’s an intuitive thing.

And it’s essential that it’s wordless, because words would “edit” this intuition, just like we discussed in class. Tan manages to portray the immigrant story on an emotional level, calling us to imagine it with the awe and sympathy we felt when we did as children– or as I, born and raised in the US, did as a child. Giving the protagonist dialogue would make it an adult story. It wouldn’t seem so much like a memory, it would seem more like a report of events. It wouldn’t be possible to improve it with words, in my opinion. Shaun Tan deserves enormous credit (on top of what he deserves for his storytelling and artistry) for understanding that.