Research & Enquiry
Erekson, J. A. (2009). Putting Humpty Dumpty together again: When illustration shuts down interpretation. Journal of Visual Literacy,28(2), 145-162. doi:10.1080/23796529.2009.11674666
I am focusing mainly on pages 147 and 148 and it is found on the University of Hertfordshire online library.
This academic text attempts to discuss and dissect how critical visual literacy can be compromised when illustrations tell readers what to imagine. How the relationship between illustration and source texts in children’s picture books should have a balanced relationship and allow for interpretation. When illustrators over rely on conventional images it takes away the opportunity of interpretation from the reader. He uses the classic story of Humpy Dumpty and its conventional visuals in the rhyme to critically re examine historical analysis, questioning the text and visualisation with other nursery rhymes. He succeeds in challenging the way illustrations can stop the visualisation process. It is an interesting read that has made me think about how the over use of conventional imagery can sometimes stop a wider interpretation with the readers. As I wanted to explore interpretation in image this was a strong source for my project, in how to critically respond to a brief or text.
Jim A Erekson is a strong source. He is Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of Collorado. He has a PHD in Educational Psychology: Learning and Development from the Michigan State university. So, he clearly has a deep understanding of this field, and his academic journal is a strong, worthy source. His arguments are culturally important because his very valid point is applicable to such a well resited, popular children’s rhyme. Everybody knows the story of Humpty Dumpty, there is obviously something captivating to the public. In the modern popular culture of remakes, nothing is left be everything is being looked at for a new fresh interpretation. As an developing illustrator interpretation of source work to create images is a key part of the job description. This is why this source is particularly interesting to my development.
There are multiple methods to creating work. Researching methods used by illustrators in convergence with text is important. Erekson describes this in his journal “When pictures and text work well together, their relationships has been categorized as symmetrical, complementary, or in counterpoint (Nikolajeva and Scott, 2000; Nikolajeva, 2005)”. He explains there are multiple ways this can be approached. The image can directly reflect the text, be symmetrical. Complimentary by reflecting what is written by an author and adding to it, expanding its value. Counterpoint illustrations provide some ambiguity that leaves room for different interpretations. “When conventional illustrations tell readers what to imagine, critical visual literacy is compromised.” I wanted to explore some text that informs me of the complexities of the subject, its important crossing over from fine art to illustration to develop more of an understanding of this, what message are you trying to get across? Erekson writes “When pictures and text work well together, their relationships has been categorised as symmetrical, complementary, or in counterpoint (Nikolajeva and Scott, 2000; Nikolajeva, 2005).”
He creates a balanced argument, taking into consideration illustrators that use conventional image in the illustration “Arguably, illustrators who use the conventional image are trying to be helpful. Viewers and readers are guided by existing schema (Kucer, 2009), and the human tendency to activate background knowledge when processing information is well understood as one of the principal means of understanding. Illustrators themselves have grown up in the same world as the rest of us, a world saturated with popular images.”
He goes on to discuss the illustrators aimed audience “Nursery rhyme illustrators are likely to think of preschool children as their primary audience, and a departure from typical images in the job of illustrating popular traditional literature would work against the very nature of the descriptors ‘popular’ and ‘traditional’. Moreover, illustrators are as likely as anyone to believe that Humpty Dumpty is indeed an egg.” explaining their considerations when creating the visual representation of the character. However, he counter balances that fresh audiences could have the opportunity to interpret the rhyme differently. “Mother Goose Land is not the usual territory for critical thinking. When illustrators perceive the audience as young people who need induction into a world of familiar images, we want to help them find their way inside. But when the same audience should also become interpreters, this kind of help is no longer as useful.”
What is especially important about this text? This text is particularly important for my research because it analyses interpretation, illustration and narrative. I have used this source to further understand how image through illustration can create a number of different interpretations, how critical visual literacy can be limited or opened up. This text helps me understand using specific examples, in this case the classic children’s rhyme humpy dumpty, how as Jim Erekson has written “When conventional illustrations tell readers what to imagine, critical visual literacy is compromised.” He brings to point how we all still believe that Humpty Dumpty is a about an egg, even though the original text could be interpreted in many ways.
In his historical inquiry Erekson found three other options of how it could be interpreted, by looking at historical meanings of the word Humpty Dumpty before 1872. “A fallen drunk, perhaps with a broken cup, a fallen and unrousable drunk, a ruined political career.” I am sure that if Humpty Dumpty was a drunk, this rhyme could not have been put across to children, so perhaps them making him an egg was for the best even if they are contradictory to the rhymes text. “The conventional pictures and text in the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” have become contradictory. The contradictory relationship between this rhyme’s illustration and its text is a result of the conventionalized symbol of the egg. “
This approach of widening interpretation can be applied to wider illustration, not only this specific childrens Rhyme. Creative illustrators can approach source material with a fresh direction. However, they shouldn’t do it for the sake of doing it, only if it enhances the affect and enjoyment the audience could get from the work. Some tension could be benefitial between image and text but too much could make it too confusing. Erekson uses Nikolajeva and Scott quotes to highlight his points through the text “the tensions between words and pictures becomes too strong, they take the story in different directions; the story becomes ambiguous, less understandable” (Nikolajeva, 2005, p. 226).