The Dimensionality of Ekphrasis

It’s interesting to consider the definition of illustration and how we understand it. When I think the innumerable movie versions of books, it makes me realize how often we interpret ideas across different mediums. From the various covers of the Iliad that range from images from greek pottery to comic strips, it becomes clear that in the realm of written and visual arts, we are very familiar with the interchange of visual and verbal representations. There is a constant dialogue between the two whether we are conscious of it or not and the complex iterations of this dialogue are evident through ekphrasis.  As a verbal representation of a visual object, Ekphrasis provides the reading of the work with another dimension, pulling in issues of identity and culture that make the experience both provocative and personal.

I thought the exercise we did in class with the Shield of Achilles was a very clear illustration of both the limitations and complexities of ekphrasis. Although it’s a passage filled with incredible description and vivid imagery, it became clear with the variety of interpretations and illustrations that it didn’t necessarily conform the images we saw in our minds. Quite the opposite, it seemed as if the complexity of detail actually resulted in even more interpretations of the shield.  Whats even more interesting is how the ekphrasic passage allowed us all to make into reality an object that never existed in reality.  And this perhaps speaks to the limitations of art forms that don’t hinder the written word. When we see a picture there is little left to imagination but, as in the case of the shield, any one description can result in any number of imaged interpretations.

One Reply to “The Dimensionality of Ekphrasis”

  1. Erica,

    I really appreciate your comment about how, when given an image, our imagination is somewhat hindered. The reality of an image is placed right before us. However, when given a description of an image, we have the freedom to interpret the description in whatever way we please. As you mentioned, the Shield drawing exercise we did in class was an insightful one because it showed how many different people can “see” different shields from one description. With ekphrasis, the possibilities appear to be endless.

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