Seeing with the narrative of text


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The inclusion of text is successful at encouraging rather than limiting a viewer’s interpretation of art and this is most evident in power of text, particularly narrative text. The inclusion of text does not hinder the meaning of the image, but encourages the viewer to think beyond what is presented, thus develop multiple interpretations—this is the power of narrative text that leads the viewer to create a relationship of identification or empathy with the subject matter and the artist. For these reasons, artists such as Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Pat Ward Williams, and Elizabeth Catlett include text as a narrative tool within their artwork, allowing the viewer to connect more closely with the subject matter and the artist. The use of first person narrative allows the viewer to temporarily occupy the artist’s identity or the subject’s identity, where the viewer can then develop an intimate relationship with the artwork. When a viewer visits an art gallery, often the viewer skims through the painting, sculpture, mixed media, or photograph at hand. The visual content is quickly consumed. Hence, a piece of art is barely given time for interpretation or deconstruction of its meaning. Too often people come out of art galleries looking exhausted, as if they had walked through a store rather than an art showing. The viewer does not take the time to discern the content of the visual arts and thus, the art is left without or little critical assessment. However, aiding the visual with text can change the viewer’s perception or encourage multiple interpretations of the work. Text causes the viewer to stop, and pause to read around, under, or, above the image, which leads the viewer to further assess the image. When establishing a relationship between the text and the image, the viewer is using the mechanism of dual coding. Dual coding, a phrase coined by Allan Pavio, a psychologist of the theory of cognition, is the process in which our mind shifts back and forth between the writing system and the visual system. Incorporating narrative text within the artwork enables the viewer to exercise dual coding to construct a unique relationship of identification or empathy.

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Seeing with the narrative of text

  1. 1. Seeing with the Narrative of Text Madelyne Oliver African American Women in the Visual Arts
  2. 2. ThesisThe use of text with in artworks such as those ofAminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Pat Ward Williams,and Elizabeth Catlett, creates a narrative, in which theviewer is not in any way hindered by predeterminedinterpretations, but instead the viewer is encouragedby dual coding of the text to fully explore the contentand meaning of the visual. By doing so, there are tworesults to the inclusion and the power of narrativetext: empathy or identification with the subject matterof the visual and the artist herself.
  3. 3. Background on Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson• 1940-present• Grew up in Poindexter Village- federal housing complex on the east side of Columbus, Ohio• This community became known as the “Blackberry Patch” neighborhood, a thriving Black community where she grew up listening to stories from her elders and came to nickname her fellow neighbors as characters: The Sockman, Chickenfoot Woman, Iceman, Trainman, Ragman, Cameraman, Brownyskin man, and the Crow Man, all whom become the basis for her artwork in depicting the community she knew and loved
  4. 4. The Crow Manmixed media sculpture 54 X 66 X 36 in
  5. 5. Journeys I and II Medium: cloth, thread, buttons, beads, ties, paper, paint, graphite, shells, and music boxes 22” X 15” ft and 22” X 17” ft• She is known for using a variety of materials in her artwork, especially in her ‘pop-up’ books. But it was her father that taught her that sticks, leaves, mud, dyes from fruit, vegetables, and roots, pulp from recycled paper, are art materials that are everywhere and are always available• As a child her father encouraged her to listen to her elders and develop her relationship with her Aunt Cornelia, who was a former slave and “provided a link to the family’s ancestral roots in Angola and the experience of the Middle Passage… [and] recounted the family’s saga with stories about their slave experience in Sapelo Island, Georgia, the emancipation period, and the family’s subsequent migration to Columbus through Dayton, Tennessee.” (Symphonic Poem pg 15).
  6. 6. Her introduction to text like artists Williams and Catlett...• Her love for books fueled her inclusion of text. In her first work a Dream to Accomplish (1958), she attached a canvas to a written description of her feelings at a particular time and ever since then she has used narratives directly in her artwork• Has created more than 20,000 works (cloth paintings, sculptures, pop-up books, quilts, prints, book illustrations• In 1979 her six week study trip to Africa where she stopped in Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria, and Egypt, inspired her pieces Afrikan Pilgrimage, the Extended Family (1980) and Roots begin with Goree Island (1980), solidifying her connection of her own family and communal life to that of her ancestors, the communities of Africa, and the history of slavery.
  7. 7. • By aiding the visual with words, how does that change the viewer’s perception and interpretation of the work?• Does the viewer ask more questions or is the viewer satisfied in being informed by this language inscribed into the image?• The affects of text causes the viewer to stop and pause to read, therefore take the time to evaluate the meaning within the image• The use of first person narrative and power on the viewer• Dual coding
  8. 8. Image1:Aminah Robinson, African Pilgrimage Journal: the Extended Family, 1980 Pen and Ink, natural dyes, buttons, and thread on homemade paper 80 ½ X 19 ½ in
  9. 9. “Dedicated to my Father and Mother who gave me life andconstant love—they taught me the beauty of nature. AfrikanPilgrimage—The Extended Family—is a journey of life takenthrough the lives of family, friends, and of all Afrikan Peoplearound the world. The consciousness of the extended familyhas always been a spiritual experience with its beginnings inthe ‘life of Poindexter Village.’ the place of my birth andchildhood years: Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. This gift—thisbeautiful gift of having spent time with brothers and sisters inAfrika (Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt) hascaused me to see and understand and feel the realities of theinvisible lineage, which has always been the throb—the innerworkings of all Afrikan People” (Symphonic Poem 40-41).
  10. 10. Image 2: Robinson, Roots Begin with Goree Island, 1980 Pen and ink, colored pencils with thread and beads on homemade paper 10 ½ x 55 1/4 in.
  11. 11. What is the Door of No Return and where is Goree Island?• Goree Island was a small island off the coast of Senegal and was the center of the European Slave Trade• 20 million Africans passed through the Island between the mid-1500s and the mid- 1800s• This was essentially a slave-holding warehouse awaiting to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean• 30 men would sit in an 8-square-foot cell with only a small slit of window facing outward, mothers were separated from their children, sea water seeped inside stepping up the dehydration, while above their head balls and parties were thrown• There is a small “door of no return” “through which every man, woman and child walked to the slave boat, catching a last glimpse of their homeland” (African American Registry).• Today the Island has about 1000 residents
  12. 12. “In the search for ‘Roots,’ we must consider the variouspeoples from which the slaves were drawn. The mostpopular were the Yorubas of Nigeria and Benin. Theywere principally chosen because of their strong physicalcondition. The people of the Wolof, Serer, and Fulanitribe were also sold in large numbers” (“Aminah’sWorld”“Once you go through the door, there is no return…Onceyou have experienced it, you’ll never forget it. It’salways there. I heard my ancestors, I could feel them, Icould smell them, and I wanted to bring that to thispiece.” -Aminah Robinson Symphonic Poem 137
  13. 13. Image 3:Pat Ward Williams, Accused/Blowtorch/Padlock, 1986
  14. 14. Image 4:Elizabeth Catlett, I have always worked hard in America from The Negro Woman series, 1946
  15. 15. So what?• The inclusion of text does not hinder the meaning of the image, but encourages the viewer to think beyond what is presented, thus develop multiple interpretations—this is the power of narrative text• This then has two results: identification and empathyIn other words, “the unique qualities of a text can combine with the unique qualities of an image to yield meaning that is expanded beyond that which can be created from one another solely” (Sweet, 274).
  16. 16. Bibliography1. African American Registry. “Goree Island, home of ‘The Door of No Return’”. The African American Registry 2005, (accessed February 10, 2008).2. Aminah’s World. “See—Journeys”. Columbus Museum of Art. (accessed March 3, 2008).3. Cooks, Bridget R. “See Me Now.” Camera Obscura vol 36 (September 1995), pp 66-83.4. Emig, J. The web of meaning: Essays on writing, teaching, learning, and thinking. (New Jersey: Boynton/Cook, 1983).5. Genshaft, Carole Miller and notes by Aminah Robinson. Symphonic Poem: The art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. (Columbus, Columbus Museum of Art, 2002).6. Henley, David R. “Political Correctness in the Artroom: Pushing the limits of Artistic License.” Art Education, vol 48, (September 1995) pp. 57-66.7. Herzog, Melanie Anne, Chapter 2, “Encounters with Mexico, 1946-1947” in Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), pp. 49-71.8. James, Patricia. “‘I am the Dark Forest’: Personal Analogy as a Way to Understand Metaphor.” Art Education, vol 53, (September 2000) pp. 6-11.9. Pavio, A, & Walsh, M. Psychological processes in metaphor comprehension and memory. (Cambridge, Cambridge University, 1993).10. Sweet, A.P. “A national policy perspective on research intersection between literacy and the visual/communicative arts” in Handbook of Research on Teaching. (New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1997).11. Rogers, Sarah J., Claire Aguilar, Papo Colo, Bart De Baere, etc. Will/Power: New Works by Papo Colo, Jimmie Durham, David Hammons, Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, Adrian Piper, Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. (Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, 1993).