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.
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.
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.
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.
Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival” plays on the idea of understanding and misunderstanding. On a very overt level, Tan uses the lack of words to highlight how someone who does not know the language or cultures of another country may feel when they arrive. This distinction gives the book the ability to make the reader have an intense personal connection to the book if they have also experienced a similar situation. Tan does a wonderful job incorporating aspects of older photographs into his work – giving the piece a realistic vibe of immigration. The towering statues are reminiscent of the Colossus of Rhodes, or other imposing classical pieces of giant architecture. While clearly an allusion to the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, these statues represent the imposing nature of newness and fear. These objects form the focal point for the idea of fear in the book – as they are the most impressive structures in the city. Additionally, the snaking, serpent-like tail that follows the protagonist and his family in their home town shows the apprehension that the family and protagonist have in the upcoming journey.
I wonder if the story had words, perhaps only minimally, if that would shift the tenor and overall message of the book in a massive way. Certainly, the feeling of misunderstanding might be lost a little due to our own understanding of language. On the other hand, perhaps the words could contextualize a backstory of the characters for the specific reasons he is leaving for a new land. Tan’s decision to leave out words makes the reader focus much more on the illustrations.
The idea of play was discussed numerous times during our class with Julia Jacquette. What I thought was incredibly interesting is the way play has fundamentally changed over the ages. Certainly the digital age has shifted what it means to play – it might not necessarily mean going outside always, for example. However, I felt that Jacquette’s drawings of playgrounds could still be useful in todays world. Even if the use of media and video games is more than the past, playgrounds still become a central place for many kids – and her interpretations of playgrounds allows them to fit not only in her context of Manhattan, but most any park or playground.
Her explanation of how children are very perceptive to architecture was also intriguing. We don’t often think too much of how different buildings make us feel – but even our own Hamilton campus portrays a wide variety of structures. Milbank, with its large windows and imposing concrete blocks looks nothing like the classical feel of Root Hall’s white columns out front. I thought Julia’s murals engaged in a juxtaposition between the abstract and the making of social commentary on the power of magazines and media in general. To just look at the murals without any background, one might presume it is simply a ver cool abstract mural. With added context, the murals take on a whole new meaning and allow the viewer to see multiple levels of context in the mural.
As we’ve been talking about and reading Don Quixote, I’ve been wondering why the most well known scene from the book is when he tilts at windmills. Even as a kid, not having read any of Don Quixote, I was aware of that scene, and aware of the expression “tilting at windmills” even though I hadn’t read the book. It is clear the windmill scene is the most illustrated part of the book – I wonder why that is when the larger message of the book is concerned with numerous other themes, including the rise of Spain after the Reconquista, as well as the question of whether the book is a novel, satire, or picaresque.
An easy initial answer may be that it is the concrete nature and physical size; after all it is much easier to draw a physical object than say an abstract notion of social commentary. However, the windmills might represent other more abstract ideas within Spanish society – perhaps they represent a cyclical nature of life and history? Seeing as the Spanish had complete the Reconquista, maybe the commentary is that Quixote represents the Spanish nation galloping towards goals or possible achievements, even if they are too grandiose to achieve.
I don’t believe it’s necessary a bad thing that the most well known scene is the windmills. Even Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” is the most well known of Hamlet, that does not mean the rest of the play is somehow lacking in significance or brilliance. Don Quixote is certainly full of other stories and scenes that carry similar weight of importance. My project will actually be about the windmills, and I wonder how my group can make it different from others before us.
Painting is not my strong suite; I’ve made some large abstracts in the past, but when it comes to intricate small scale drawing, it can be a mess. In class today I saw first hand the intricate detail and skill level, as well as the time and patience required to create beautiful and perfected drawings for manuscript. I began by making a historiated letter “R” and then trying to add a dragon next to it, which didn’t work out like I had hoped. However, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of ideas in both the Book of Kells and My Name is Red. On one hand, My Name is Red can be interpreted as a Western text – although the illuminators at the time had to balance a fine line of drawing what the knew or saw, and avoiding creating idolatry – which would be sinful. Compared to the Chi Rho page in the Book of Kells, their idea of how their savior should be represented and revered is quite different: The Chi Rho page, as exemplified in the film we watched about Kells, is a wonderfully crafted and designed page, with the goal to awe and inspire the reader. I have been thinking about the comparisons between My Name is Red and Kells for a while now, so perhaps that may be the basis for my first essay. I was also very intrigued by the mixing of paint today, and it gave me a deep respect for the patience it took to set up painting – for I can imagine the mixing and creation of the paints would be quite an arduous process. It was heartening to see that the ancient art of creating paint for manuscripts is not lost even in the world of technology.
I was thoroughly intrigued with the earliest forms of bookmaking and manuscripts after we viewed them in the library today. Two of my other classes for History involve lots of readings of old manuscripts, so it was great to see these books up close.
I believe it was a large book of the history of the world that contained a few blank pages at the end, followed by a large etching or picture of the apocalypse. It depicted the AntiChrist being urged on by the Devil, while a crowd of onlookers listened with rapture. Above them, a wild tumult is occurring, signaling the final struggle at the end of the world.
I find this line of thinking to be a bit counter intuitive: Even as humankind was creating and transforming their world over five hundred years ago, and making new technologies to further assist their artistic and spiritual learning, they were still completely afraid of the impending doom. Whether this was due to the religious sentiment of the time across Europe, or simply a fear of the unknown and strict adherence to old principles, it still struck me as odd to be so afraid that someone would include a massive page of the apocalypse at the end of what was otherwise an incredible and beautifully crafted book.
The invention of the printing press allowed regular people, not just nobles and the Church, to more easily attain knowledge. The Protestant Reformation was largely galvanized by the printing press, and this spread of knowledge, whether religious or otherwise let common people in on the artistic secrets that had eluded them for centuries. While the Apocalypse has not happened (yet) it interests me as to why these images of apocalyptic notions are prevalent in these illuminated manuscripts and early books. Perhaps it kept people grounded into the world they knew, or perhaps it gave them a reason to strive for living the best life possible.
In two illustrated manuscripts, Plate 71, and Plate 74, from the British Library and the Bodleian Library, respectively, we see a lot of symbolism regarding death. Plate 71’s prominent picture is of Death, represented as a skeleton with a scythe, stands triumphantly in a beautifully constructed palace.
In contrast, Plate 74 contains a scene depicting a burial, full of somber looking people dressed in black, with two Priests in the center. The Marginalia in 74 works against the predominant vibe of 71, in that 74’s Marginalia is just eight skulls, with one skull turned at a grotesque angle, and some without jaws. Plate 71’s Marginalia also contains skulls, but they are interwoven with serpents, and although the imagery is still deathlike, it does not feel as somber.
An interesting question, or idea to look at, is what did these two specific manuscripts believe about death, and how did their views, positive (or accepting) or Negative, inform and affect their interpretation of life and death within the manuscript? While both Plates look to discuss death, they do so in different ways, and incorporate skulls as the pivotal symbol that everyone at this time period could easily understand as Death. What I find most interesting is the triumphal look of Death in 71. Even though Death may have triumphed over the world, or an empire, it seems like 71 is making the case that Death is a necessity, and thus must be respected.