Illustration: A Dialogue between Text and Picture, July 2013

Issue 28 of History and Theory: The Protocols is dedicated to the subject of illustrations, following a conference that was held in Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design on May 2010.

Illustration is usually perceived as a form of visual art that accompanies a verbal text. In a broader sense one can observe illustration as a unique genre of art that performs a continuous visual dialogue with different narratives. The understanding of this dialogue is the focus of the current issue. The articles and exhibitions included in this issue ask to neutralize, even for a moment, the known hierarchy dictated by the language, to stop for a moment and look at the illustration not only as illustrating a text but to try and perceive the interpretation of the visual image as preceding the literary or transforming it. In this way it is possible to understand illustration as a unique form of art. The positioning of the diversity of materials in this issue asks to base the need of a critical discourse that will be able to integrate a visual reference to the textual without a hierarchy, and demands from the reader and writer to think about the ways in which a word completes a picture or separates itself from it. Therefore, illustration demands interpretive and critical tools which diverge from the academic discourse that usually distinguishes sharply between the visual and the textual. Illustration must emerge as a unique genre accompanied by a critical discourse which includes the same mediation between two different media that is a part of its essence.

Naturally, the illustration demands from whoever writes about it a double ability to refer to both textual and visual layers. Therefore it is interesting to examine this duality in relation to the biography of the writers of this issue and find among them many illustrators who chose in this occasion to express themselves not with visual images alone but to also depict in words the subject of their writing. The speech that Maurice Sendak gave in acceptance of the Caldecott medal is translated to Hebrew in this issue as an historical text that expresses the breakthrough of the modern illustrator in the 20th century. Sendak describes in it the achievements of the English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. The same groundbreaking freedom is evident in the essay written by the illustrator Ora Eitan. In this essay, that does not include any visual images, the words try to follow the origin, the evolutionary essence that lies as a deep root in the human culture.

The linkage to the past, and more accurately the historical point of view, is vividly present in the current issue in the article of prof. Josheph H. Schwartz, an innovative Israeli scholar in the field of illustration. Thor Gonen’s article includes an historical point of view but presents an overview which discusses the development of illustration of children’s books and at the same time brings it together with a bold argument about the role of the illustration. Gonen asks to integrate the historical-artistic analysis with the argument that in its inception the illustration’s role in a work that combines text and picture was to alleviate suffering.

The historical consciousness is present in many of the exhibitions in this issue. The series of prints by the illustrator liora Wise presents a gesture to the golden age of the English illustration from the 19th century. Merav Salomon presents a sensual gesture to Heinrich Hoffmann’s “Shockheaded Peter”. Like Hoffman, Salomon does not express herself in a visual image alone but creates a poetic narrative which is composed of unrhymed images and words as the German original. In a same manner, the illustrators Hila Noam and Zeev Engelmeyer combine word and picture and the hybrid that they create is not a comic book or an illustrated work for children but a childish work, which is drawn out from local literary materials.
It seems that many times the interpretive writing about illustration deals with the deconstruction of some gestalt. The conventional illustrated act leans on the completion and reciprocity in the dialogue between text and picture. The annotating illustration that demonstrates verbal information is not similar to the artistic effort that seems to try to break this analogy, to change the direction of the taken for granted and alter it irreversibly. The short story by the illustrator Ofra Amit creates a horrifying concretization to the metaphor or maybe to the artistic effort and turns it up side down.

The comic book and the illustrated book for children are two forms or two tanks of water which contain wonderfully without hierarchy words and pictures. In this issue there is a broad critical-interpretive treatment of the illustrated book and especially of the genre of the picturebook, as an ultimate tank that explains in a concrete manner the artistic potential that exists in the annulment of the separation between words and pictures. An artistic potential that can become an inspiration and a standard and feed the commercial-artistic field and set in motion a critical discourse which integrates a serious treatment of illustration and does not view the picturebook as a product for children alone or a commercial product, but an artistic expression that demands a visual critical as well as a verbal treatment. Naama benziman’s and Orna Granot’s texts focus on the picturebook and offer a deeper analysis of its unique mechanism, that is combined of the act of turning the page and an accumulation of a story that is observed, read and read allowed in a lively manner, again and again.
The issue tries to offer a wide as possible range of an interpretive discourse about illustration. In the one end one can find Avigail Reiner’s text that presents the holistic writing about the illustrated book. The other end of this range is Noa Lea Cohen’s review of an exhibition, that explores in a verbal, interpretive and deep manner the iconography of the Jewish female creators without using any visual example.

The illustration as a complex work structurally contains a duality of expression when the gap between its different dimensions is exploited in an ironic or unexpected manner. However, at times this complexity exists in the relations between the creator and the reader. Because many of the works that are addressed to children are illustrated, there exists an artistic status which secures the hierarchy of addressing children as a less valuable or complex act. In her article Aviva Zarka refers to the codification that adult artists use in creating children’s books un rout towards the apparent childish naivete. Marit Ben Israel embarks on a journey which is triggered by a memory of an emotional childish connection and not a rational analysis.

The image that was chosen to visually express the promise of this issue is taken from Alona frenkel’s book “Tova’s Bad Day”. The figure of the “good” Tova (good in Hebrew) alludes to the subversive potential existing in illustration in general and in the relation between text and picture in particular. As in the case of the argument for the reversal of the hierarchy between words and pictures, this image asks to undermine the convention that views illustration for children or childish illustration or the childish way of thinking as less valuable. Here again, the illustration has a potential for a universal statement, specifically because it is originated in a structural simplicity. Therefore, the current issue offers standards for an esthetic analysis of the artistic illustration. Illustration is a story that one can dive into time and time again, a multi-layered work that contains a reference that can be viewed as spiral. One that invites an integrative reading of readers of different ages and maybe different generations, that in the end of the book asks in a childish manner to read again and again to our child and to the child within us.