Friday, December 10, 2010

Surrealism in Children's books

An interesting subject that I would have liked to address in my paper but didn't find a place for is the comparison between the surrealism employed in children's illustrations (I noticed that few illustrations attempt to convey direct realism, at the very least using a style of representation that made it clear that the images were drawn, as in H.A. Rey's Curious George) and that of the surrealist art movement. Though the main differences would likely be the level of sophistication, depth of meaning and intent involved in the work of art, there are certainly similarities to be found in terms of the way in which they both convey visual ideas. In my paper I discussed the aspects of children's illustrations that distance them from other art, but I think that looking at the ideas and motivation behind surreal elements in some illustrations can serve to bring the genre closer to other forms of art. The next thing to consider would be where is the distinction drawn between nonsense and surrealism?

Alice in Wonderland, John Tenniel

Giorgio de Chirico, "The Uncertainty of the Poet", 1913


  1. In my opinion, surrealism does much more than nonsense can, but something that appears to be nonsense, or even something that was originally intended as nonsense could be seen with surrealism in mind. Surrealism has motive behind it, and it almost looks to represent the unconscious, which oftentimes does not seem to make sense at all. I suppose that if something that is nonsense does not engage you, make you think, or evoke a response, then maybe it is just nonsense. Clearly finding this line is much more difficult that I thought lol.
    But I love surrealism, I'm sorta jealous I didn't pick that as a topic!

  2. I think surrealism in children's books is an interesting topic. I never really thought of the (sometimes silly) fantasy drawings found in children's book as surreal per se, but now that I think about it, there is definitely an argument for fitting some of them into that category. To me, surrealism has to do with accessing one's subconscious through dreams, and some children's books definitely hint at this concept. I'm thinking of works such as Alice in Wonderland, In the Night Kitchen, and Where the Wild Things Are, all of which contain a character who enters some alternate reality via dreamland.

  3. I very much agree with what was said above - I think surrealism is this dream state that is hard to understand or enter - with a children's book, the story is explored through text (most likely simple text) so the surreal images become less obscure and impossible to understand. I think so much of what makes surrealism enticing is its confusion and difficulty - when there are words next to it to describe what's going on, it loses some of its surrealist aspects; that said, often the pictures in children's book can be extraordinarily absurdest or surrealist, and the words don't really correspond to the image, perhaps making it even more surreal.

    would be a cool topic.