The Uses of Images in the Study and Teaching of Literature

Master's Thesis, 2008

123 Pages


Table of contents


Chapter One: Background to the Study.
a-A Brief review of Literature
b-Defining Terminology
c-The Rationale of the Study

Chapter Two: Visual Art and Literature
a-Theoretical Basis
b-Painting and Literature
c-Photography and Literature

Chapter Three: Case Studies
a-When We Dead Wake vs “The sick child”
b- A Walk in the Night vs “Apartheid”
c-“The open boat” vs “Brig upon water”
d-“The hollow men” vs “The portrait of Ambroise Vollard’’

Implications for Teaching Literature




Art is in museums, well protected by walls of critics, ready to rebuke any curious uninformed person about art. Awe and respect are the attitudes required to look at a piece of art; to appreciate its value, one may need knowledge related to history and aesthetics. The cult of the sacred has for long dominated artistic thought to the extent that when people now hear the word ‘art’, they are afraid to advance any argument in fear to displease the initiated. With such received ideas, art has become more distant to people. The idea that Tolstoy aimed to disseminate about art as constituting the bridge between people’s feelings sounds unfeasible at present. The universality that art could demonstrate lingered in museums visited by people from here and there. Such ideas hampered students from getting in touch with works that could offer them other ways of looking and construing the world around them. Alexandre Blok (1906), a Russian painter once said that “painting teaches one how to look and how to see” (p. 24).

Indeed, to look, to see, to perceive, and to observe are different ways of appreciating any work of art. Looking at a picture and pondering about its meaning is observing its traits and perceiving its artistry. Verbs related to sight often entail examination, inspection, scrutiny, study, and appraise. Whether the viewer is initiated to visual literacy or not, the picture grabs his or her attention and impels understanding. No matter how simple or sophisticated the result is, the act is nonetheless productive. Pictures provoke thoughts as words do. Their judicious use in literature teaching may enhance the interpretive abilities of students.

This thesis postulates that the use of visual art in the literature class can enhance students’ understanding of literary works and movements. It can also trigger imagery and therefore generate interpretations. However, it is important to underline the word ‘use’ in contrast with the word ‘study’. This thesis is mainly concerned with the use of images in literature teaching and learning, but not with the study of images as the latter is often subsumed under an art syllabus. This study analyzes images against works of literature with the purpose of facilitating understanding, spurring imagery, and therefore generating interpretations. Therefore literature is the main focus of study but not art.

Art is actually used in the largest sense of the word since this study includes works which are regarded as masterpieces by art critics whether in photography or painting alongside uncanonized works. The term ‘art’ in this investigation does not subscribe to any school of thought. Art is rather seen as is literature, a product of imagination and creative thought. It constitutes what is rich, complex, disturbing, and therefore open into various interpretations.

The debate with respect to the definition of art saw the rise of a branch of philosophy called aesthetics where controversial views have been voiced, but so far has not opted for a universal definition of art. Kant’s (1987) own definition, for instance, although more appropriate to the concerns of this paper, cannot be fully embraced since he considers art as an imaginative and disinterested socially detached activity, but yet believes in a universal taste and judgment. Hence Kant’s stance goes against critical thinking in the study of art and literature.

Conversely, this study suggests the use of images regardless of their artistic qualities. Their communicative force is the sole criterion that may justify a teacher’s choice.

Indeed the communicative content of the picture is of paramount importance to literature. It may first enliven imagery in the reader’s mind, in other words, it helps the reader imagine scenes as described in the literary work, and, therefore, assist events’ grasp, while image ambiguity can be effective in arousing the reader’s interest to attend to complexities of meaning and to be alert to significant details. Hence, the visual aspect, which is much more telling to readers, stimulates interpretations.

As a matter of fact, the rationale behind the present study is based on a belief that images are potential generators of ideas. The rationale rests on a theory that involves a three part relationship between image, imagery, and imagination. The fact of looking at an image brings about imagery, the perception of the image in the mind of the viewer. The mental image authenticity is often relatively degraded by time depending on the viewer’s memory and ability to accurately perceive any material. The incomplete retained image is subjectively restored by the viewer’s imagination, hence yielding a different image from the initial one. The following diagram illustrates the circular role of the image:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The role of imagination in the reshaping of imagery is as important as when the reader perceives scenes through words and adds his or her own interpretation. The link between the image and the word may be decisive for the shaping of the final image, which forms an interpretation.

On the basis of this theory, this thesis suggests the use of paintings and photographs in literature teaching encompassing the view that images are of great significance to literary works.

For this end, the first chapter constitutes a background to the study including a review, terminological definitions, and the rationale behind the study.

The review presents the literature written on media based techniques for the study and teaching of fiction. The aim is to see the extent to which the visual aspect is exploited in the literature classroom. Two types of mediums need to be mentioned in this respect: motion pictures under the field of film studies and static pictures in an art based syllabi.

The part on terminological definitions aims to distinguish between relevant items of terminology such as picture, image, painting, and photo. Picture usually refers to what is visually real, while image refers to the mental representation of a picture. A painting may be a reproduction of something real, or a creation of a new form depicted using pigments on a canvas. On the other hand, a photograph is a picture reproducing a real thing procured through photography. However, the word image is often used to refer to attention grabbing and artistic pictures, particularly paintings and photos.

The third part provides a historical and scientific basis for studying images in parallel with literature; hence, it explains the relationship existing between the two. The theory positing the interactional process between image, imagery, and imagination is discussed at length in the first place, and then followed by a historical background on how images are related to words, thus paving the ground for scientific arguments discussing the importance of the visual element to the word, which revolves around two main premises: visual thinking, and visual styles.

The second chapter entitled visual art and literature draws parallels and analogies between literature and paintings, and between literature and photography. With respect to painting, the analogy is explained on the basis of the “ut pictura poesis” positing resemblances between poetry and painting, while the parallel is drawn through emblems, the practice of supplementing paintings with epigrams. More similarities are drawn between movements sharing the same concerns such as classicism, romanticism, and modernism. In the same vein, photography is introduced as an art initially inspired from literature in a pictorialist movement reconstituting scenes from renowned literary works. Two other movements, namely modernism and realism are presented to account for parallels between literature and photography.

To substantiate the validity of this visual art based approach to literature, the third chapter involves four case studies in the form of essays analyzing different types of images against different genres of literary works. The essays include an Analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s When We Dead Wake in relation to the book’s cover displaying part of Edvard Munch’s painting, “The sick child”; an analysis of Alex Laguma’s A walk in the night, against The Apartheid Photograph; an analysis of Stephen Crane’s “The open boat” against Gustave Le Gray’s painting “Brig upon water”, and Finally a study of T.S. Eliot’s “The hollow men” in relation to Pablo Picasso’s “The Portrait of Ambroise Vollard”.

Chapter One: Background to the Study

a Brief Review of Literature

It is taken for granted that the medium in the study and teaching of literature is the text. The latter bridges the gap between the reader and the author yielding a story in between. To get oneself in this story becomes a full sensory experience; the student needs to see the setting, to hear what characters are talking about, to smell the air of the morning sun, to feel the sadness of the thing… in short to exist within the confines of the story is to come to understand what it is about. Such step is essential to the analysis and interpretation of the whole work. Faced with the text only, students of different styles may not be able to experience the story in the same way. Some may lack the imaginative abilities required to picture the story, and thus fail to grasp its meaning, while others may feel scared in front of a bare text.

Concerned with such matters, Goodwyn (1998) argued that educators should broaden the literacy horizon. A text would not necessarily be defined as ink on paper, but mediums with which students are faced today, media texts in general (p. 2). The ‘visual turn’ (Jay, 1989, p. 49 quoted in Duncum, 2001, p. 102) that world societies witnessed with the advent of Television, computer, and internet made students “read little and watch too much” (Ibid p. 3) The nostalgia for the past where students used to be keen on reading can be explained by the fact that they were few media texts they were exposed to. Goodwyn (1998) does not lament on such change, but argues for an education where reading will come to mean also reading a picture or a film (p. 5). Goodwyn relates such suggestions with the kind of reader educators are preparing for the after school period, one who will be able to decipher a variety of texts presented to him or her (Ibid).

Therefore, the attempted solution is to adapt to the textual landscape, implying a redefinition of literature teachers as textual teachers. Goodwyn (1998) suggested bringing media texts together with print texts in the literature classroom the assumption being that students come to the classroom with a fairly sufficient knowledge of visual texts; drawing on the latter may help understand the print text (p. 138). His method is teaching movie adaptation in the literature classroom whereby students can compare the text with the filmic adapted version, in other words, how the text evolved in the hands of the film maker. This, Goodwyn, argues, impel students to explore more the text so that to comprehend and evaluate the translation process from print to visual (Ibid, p. 143). Such method may further bring the students to realize the intensity and durability of the text (p. 148).

Besides, adaptation, Reimer (1979) suggests the use of movies in the literature classroom in order to ease understanding. The movie usually offers a portrayal of the scenes that may be more memorable to the reader. Acquaintance with both print and visual source will give the reader the opportunity to reflect on what he or she has read (p. 5). To this end, Reimer (1979) recommended certain steps to follow for the inclusion of movies in a literary course:

1. To read the literary work before watching the movie; if one applies the reverse may find difficulties disregarding the scenes as depicted by the director in the reading process, and thus may affect his or her own interpretation.
2. To discuss the work of literature with students in the light of their interpretations, and also with respect to the existing contemporary reviews
3. To introduce students to the techniques used in the process of movie making likely to exert an influence upon their reading such as camera angles, slow motion, sound…
4. To view and discuss the movie while operating a comparison between the text and the adapted version in terms of plot, characters, setting, point of view, cinematic effects, and their relevance (p. 9)

In a different fashion, French (1971) offered to apply literary criticism to the movie studies area. The institutionalization of literary criticism into a serious field of inquiry with clearly defined techniques should profit to cinema where literary techniques can be visually touched upon in adaptations (p. 18). Students must be able to recognize and analyze those techniques not only in the adapted movie, but also in any given one since movies have been affected by literary techniques such as the ones used in the “nouveau roman” of Robbe Grillet (p. 19).

On the other hand, the static picture has also been the target of incessant consideration by educators. Just as the motion pictures found place in the literature classroom, so is the static picture, particularly an expressive one, if not artistic. Indeed, advocators of Discipline art based education campaigns for the study of visual art for different concerns. From their inception in the 1980, the DBAE as it is referred to, supports and sponsors the study of visual art (Duke, 1988, p.9) based on a holistic model for teaching emphasizing motivation, constructivism and critical thinking (Delacruz & Dunn, 1996, p. 69).

The DBAE enhances motivation through presenting material relevant to the student’s interests and lives. Its purpose is set around the ability of students to construct knowledge on their own through perceiving the interrelatedness of different objects. This creative process may be said to sparkle critical thinking to which DBAE aspire (ibid).

It must be noted that DBAE purports to teach art as a separate object, yet it embodies a unit under the name of CHAT (comprehensive holistic assessment task) concerned with teaching visual art in relation to other disciplines such as geography, literature, poetry, history, music, science, and math (Ibid, p. 76). The aim of which is to reflect upon both fields, that is art and say literature. However, the purpose is reduced to the cultivation of knowledge in art and aesthetics in general, along with human and multicultural concerns enhancing collaboration and sociability. The visual art material is, therefore, not exploited fully as an asset for interpretations.

This way, the static picture is not as exploited as the motion picture in the literature classroom. For such reason, this thesis attempts to provide a framework for using the static picture in the literature classroom.

b Defining Terminology

Picture, image, painting, photo

Terminological distinctions related to visual material can be made on the basis of what is concrete and what is mentally imagined or reproduced. Pictures fall in the category of concrete visual material while images are mental representations of pictures.

The word ‘picture’ may refer to a painting, a drawing, a photograph, a portrait or anything visual, particularly related to art. However the verb ‘to picture’ means to visualize a picture in the mind, that is, to form a mental image (Oxford Dictionary, 1998, p. 871). People often say “I can’t picture his face” meaning ‘I can’t recall his facial traits, what he looked like’.

On the other hand, an image is a mental picture. It is abstract and merely conceived in the mind. The etymology of the word tells about its association in Latin with ‘statue’ ‘idol’ or ‘figure’ suggesting ‘likeness’ and ‘imitation’ (Skeat, 2005, p. 287). The inability of the human mind to accurately recall all the details of a picture reflects the imitative aspect of the image. In fact, there are varying degrees of fidelity and vividness in a mental image depending on the cognitive abilities of the person in question (Morris and Hampson, 1983, vii).

Images are either literal, perceptual, or conceptual. A literal image does not require the use of figurative language, e.g. ‘he loitered in the streets all night’. However, a perceptual image entails figurative language as in the metaphor ‘hedgerows file slowly’ while a conceptual image is one which entails a concept such as faith, loyalty, ‘castle of God’ that have markedly different mental pictures (Cuddon, 1991, p. 443).

The verb derived from ‘image’ is ‘to imagine’, meaning to form a mental image of something departing from a material or from the creative ability of the person to conceive new materials (Oxford Dictionary, 1998, p. 592). Literature, for instance abounds with such images (e.g. ‘he’s a doll’, ‘he’s a real pig’).This way the image can be either a reproduction or a creation.

The dual property of the image is the concern of this thesis, that is, the ability to conceive images anew or to create totally new ones. It might have been more appropriate to use the word picture in the title of this thesis as it includes paintings, drawings, and photographs, but since the aim is not to study pictures per se, but to use them to trigger images in the mind of students, the word image has been opted for. The purpose of the visual art based techniques presented in this thesis is not to make students accurately remember pictures, but rather recall parts of pictures as a starting point for their re-imagining, re-presenting or re-inventing the world that is described to them in the literary work, and therefore, re-interpreting it.

Also of interest to the terminology used in this thesis is the current use of the word ‘image’, which no more merely designates mental conceptions or copies of certain materials, but extends to aesthetic objects manifesting the force of human creativity (Tisseron, 1997, p. 15). It is currently more often the case to talk of images rather than pictures in the artistic field or when simply referring to a startling or eye catching picture (e.g. the images of those people drowning are horrible; images in renaissance painting were mainly of a religious nature)


A painting is a picture that has been painted using pigments. There are different mediums that can be used to this end ranging from tempera, fresco, oil, watercolor, ink, gouache, encaustic, to casein. The forms are also diverse as far as the painting can be displayed in a variety of ways such as mural, easel, miniature, manuscript, panorama…

As to the content of the painting, it may be representational, imitative, decorative or expressive (see Van Dyke, 1894, and Christensen, 1964).


On the other hand, a photograph, photo in its abbreviated form, is a picture obtained by photography. Unlike painting, which goes back to the primitive age, photography is a recent trend that has been credited as art not so long ago. The invention of the camera made it possible for users to accurately capture images either in black and white or full colors. For this reason, the realism aspect of photography has been often stressed in contrast to painting, where imitation has certain limits, especially portraiture. However, although conspicuously realistic, a photo lacks some elements of reality being of two dimensions only, lacking in lightning effects as well as angle features. In semiotics, it is properly referred to as icon, a pattern that physically resembles what it stands for, hence a reproduction (Fozza, Garat, & Parfait, 1983, p. 13). This enabled photography to liberate itself from the realistic label so as to extend into expressive abilities and artistic endeavors.

Image, imagery, imagination and fancy


Essential to the debate on images is the distinction between image and imagery. The term image is often used interchangeably with imagery, yet a difference exists between the two.

An image, as previously explained, is strictly a visual picture in the mind, while imagery extends to all sensorial perceptions in the mind involving visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory, gustatory, and even kinesthetic experiences (Cuddon, 1991, p. 443). Just as the colors of a painting may remain vivid in the mind of the viewer, so is the taste of a cake or the touch of silk or the sound of a jazz tune. Single memorable mental perceptions are in their turn called images, hence an explanation for the interchangeability of the two terms.

However, it is often the case that an image does not barely entail one experience, but may, intersect, or combine with other experiences (Cuddon, op. cit., p. 443). By way of illustration, the sting of a bee suggests a visual image, an auditory image (the bee’s buzzing), and tactile image (painful sting). In literature, the picture should be so clear to the reader as to arouse in him/her the event as fully experienced, to quote Conrad (1897) in his preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus:

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. (p. 4)

Thus, the author of fiction is preoccupied with the extent to which he or she can make the reader exist within the imaginary world s/he created.

The content of imagery is mainly drawn from perception, originally derived through the senses, in other words, perception is encoded into imagery (Morris & Hampson, 1983, p. 4). For instance, an olfactory experience may turn into an image expressing the sense of disgust, and nausea associated with a certain smell.

Beside the perceptual aspect of imagery, Morris & Hampson (1983) distinguished other features of imagery drawn from the four categories into which it is divided: intentional, spontaneous, imagination, and memory imagery (p. 65).

Intentional imagery occurs when an individual is inclined to create a mental image. It is a fully conscious act based on the mental apparatus of the individual.

Spontaneous imagery is triggered by a certain startling event, idea, or thought. It often occurs when individuals are confused or mystified in their thinking. Betts (1909) who advanced this hypothesis argued that images are “an army of helpers rushing to the mind’s assistance” (Quoted in Morris & Hampson, op cit., p. 70).

On the other hand, imagination imagery refers to those images which incorporate past events as a starting point for newly created material (Ibid, p. 66). Such images are in no sense reduplications of past events. Imagination imagery is actually the type of imagination that contains mental pictures.

Finally, memory imagery brings into the surface past or memorable events in the form of images (Ibid, p. 67). Images of this type are remembered experiences with no taint of imagination.

Worthy of mention is the role of the individual in the creation of imagery as intentional, passive, or spontaneous (Ibid, p. 65). Such distinctions were made on the basis of introspection, which is to date one of the first techniques used to investigate imagery. The assumption behind such method was that “conscious mental content was observable through the mind’s eye” (Titchener (1896) as quoted in Morris & Hampson, op. cit., p 67).

Although widely criticized, introspection continued to hold an important position in imagery research. Nevertheless, the 70’s saw the rise of other methods such as psychophysics and chronometric or reaction time techniques which both looked at the reactions of respondents in a limited time after they were presented with pictures (Richardson, 1980, p. 141).

However the ‘imageless thought’ trend radically opposed the existence of mental imagery, directing scathing criticism to the practitioners of introspection. But yet, soon Rudolph Arnheim (1969) restored the debate with his visual thinking studies, yet as Titchener retorted “investigators who had failed to find mental images had simply not looked hard enough!” (Quoted in Morris & Hampson, op. cit., p. 6)

An issue raised by the imagery debate is its close affiliation with imagination as both are related to perception and both generate mental images. Hence, a dividing line needs to be drawn between imagery and imagination, which is the concern of the next chapter.


Imagination has always been a slippery term, for to define it, you need it to imagine what it is like as Pope (1998, p. 204) remarked. Within the various attempts at definition, all has hailed imagination as innovation, that capacity to create out of nothing. Shakespeare in a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600) is a case in point:

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact. (V, p i )

In general, the Elizabethans equated poetry with imagination and marvelous powers. In their view, imagination could allow poets to express matters that went beyond the rational powers (Cuddon, 1991, p. 326)

In the 17th century, imagination debates took on a different path, particularly with the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who contended that all knowledge is derived from the senses. According to him, the sensory experience feeds memory which in turn feeds fancy that judgment controls. John Locke voiced the same views stressing again the role of judgment with his theory of ‘the association of ideas’. Locke argued that the imaginative material stems from perception that judgment is in command of. (Ibid, p. 327)

Worthy of mention is the fact that in the 17th century, the terms imagination and fancy were used interchangeably. However, with the advent of romanticism, the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge attempted a division based on his own view of imagination:

Fancy and imagination were two distinct and widely different faculties, instead of being, according to the general belief, either two names with one meaning, or, at furthest, the lower and higher degrees of one and the same power. (Ibid, p. 328)

According to Coleridge, imagination is either primary, the ability to unconsciously conceive and create, or secondary, the faculty to re-create out of perceived material. Conversely fancy’s role is merely associative -uncreative and uninventive. (Warnock, 1976, p. 91, 92)

With regards to both fancy and imagination, the role of perception has been stressed in most attempted definitions precedent or subsequent to Coleridge. Indeed, the assiduity of the senses to draw material from the outer world in the form of images provides material for imagination. As such, imagination may be confused with imagery since both draw from perception, and both can be mental images; yet Wordsworth disentangled the ambiguity when he explained that imagination works both in the presence and the absence of the object (Cited in Warnock, op. cit., p .129). Unlike imagery which requires the perception of an object to form a mental image, imagination does not necessarily require its presence to shape a newly mental image, thought or idea. Furthermore, even in the presence of the object imagination extends to re-creation. It actually draws from that store of imagery to re-create and re-invent.

To conclude imagination is the ability to innovate, or to draw from your one’s resources to create something unprecedented. In the latter case, imagination resorts to imagery to form an image. The interrelatedness of image, imagery and imagination in such process delineates the rationale of this thesis.

c. The Rationale of the study


This thesis intends to make use of visual art in the literature classroom. It recommends the use of significant images for analysis against literary works. The rationale behind such method rests on a theory that involves a circular relationship between image, imagery, and imagination.

Fundamentally, an image generates ideas in the basic sense of questioning its meaning, yet the fact of being aware that it is studied for a special purpose, that is literature teaching and learning, makes of it a challenging material to decipher. Besides, students’ daily exposure to a considerable amount of visual material in the media may ease their familiarization with literature if they are introduced to pictures in the classroom. In that case, motivation is likely to increase and thus ease understanding of the literary work.

Yet, systematically, a physical image presented to the sight of the viewer involves perception. The way individuals perceive pictures is contingent upon the way they look at them. For instance, some focus on colors, others focus on the content, and others are attracted by some single details. Those different ways of looking at pictures shape different perceptions that are encoded in the mind of the viewer as imagery.

Imagery stores perceptions in the form of mental images, and here perception is not restricted to visual material but is often influenced by emotions as Warnock pointed out:

And this power, though it gives us ‘thought-imbued’ perception (it ‘keeps the thought alive in the perception’), is not only intellectual. Its impetus comes from the emotions as much as from the reason, from the heart as much as from the head (Warnock, op. cit., p. 196)

To borrow Warnock’s term, ‘the emotion-laden seeing’ impinges upon the perception since “the image, whether in the world or in the mind, is essentially something which generates feeling’ (Ibid, p. 116). Hence, imagery is fashioned according to the way the viewer looks at the picture and the feelings he or she gets from it.

Besides, total accuracy in terms of imagery is never attained. Researchers have proved that mental images are modified and distorted in different ways from the moment they are perceived without the viewer’s consent. With time, in the absence of the perceived object, many changes occur (Morris & Hampson, op.cit., p. 94)

Imagery can therefore be considered as a form of ‘imagining’ and a mental image, as the word suggests, a “simulacra or re- presentations of things seen, heard, or otherwise experienced” (Ibid, p. 119).

The flaws in the image are quickly catered for by imagination, depending on the viewers’ own interest and own understanding of the initial image, hence, conductive to a novel image and, therefore, an interpretation. This reproduction or recreation process calls up the secondary imagination, that capacity to create departing from a certain material.

To recapitulate, in simpler terms, a physical image as a starting point is perceived by the viewer and mentally encoded into imagery which is reproduced by imagination yielding a mental image. The following diagram illustrates this process:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The final mental image can be considered an interpretation per se as the result of a subjective perception as well as an imagination negotiated by the knowledge the viewer holds about the literary work. Therefore, what the significantly related image helps him or her to do is to trigger this understanding or interpreting ability inherent in him/her.

Images and Words

One way of explaining the whys and wherefores of studying literature with visual art is to consider the atavistic relation between words and images. The latter were the first used to express matters that words currently do such as communication, history recording, and art.

The early men portrayed silhouettes of animals and human beings on bones and slates. Examples of such primitive images survives in the pottery, weapons, and stone tools of the cave dwellers excavated by archeologists, while finest achievements are to be found in western France (Dordogne, Montignac) and northern Spain (Altamira) where cave paintings, which dates to 20 000 and 10 000 BC, represent scenes of hunted animals (Adam, 1940, p. 25, see figure, 1, 2)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig.1 engraving on bone from thaingen (Switzerland) Fig. 2 bison standing. Altamira cave, spain. L. c.

5 ft. Archives photographiques

This decorative concern, conspicuously realist, is often associated with magic connotations. The prehistoric man’s painting was a way of relating a prowess to his fellows, the illustration of the animal he had slain. The picture drawn also serves to propitiate the animal species upon which his survival depends. The image was believed to secure the danger of the prey’s extinction (Christensen, 1964, p. 11). However, after learning how to grow crops, man abandoned the practice of painting animals, for he no longer depended on hunt (Ibid, p. 12). Man painted hunting scenes instead, where he dominated animals (see fig. 2), or turned into depicting objects such as ships (fig.3). The painer – prehistoric man cared for decorating their tools, narrating history as well as expressing deep superstitious fears.

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Fig. 3 bronze age rock engravings (1000-500 B.C.)

More sophisticated picture recorded history is found in the Egyptian art. Indeed, besides the decorative paintings that surrounded the temples and palaces, Egyptian art exhibits domestic scenes figure, monarchical exploits, and religious rites (Van Dyke, 1894, 19-21, see figure 4 and 5). The story telling was often symbolic relating “the activities serving the dead, and the trials awaiting the dead” as Gombrich explained “such images must be read sequentially, more or less as we read a text” (p. 20, see fig. 6). In the same vein, the hieroglyphs, the visual language used by Egyptians, embodies symbolic representations of animals, signs, lines that stand for ‘objects’ or abstract ideas. Hieroglyphs accompanied many paintings as explanatory aids, particularly in temples. This pictographic art as Adam (1940) explained “must be regarded as the preliminary stage of writing. The classical examples are the oldest kinds of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters.” (p. 43, fig. 7)

FIG. 4.—Offerings to the dead,

Wall painting, eighteenth dynasty.from parrot and chipiez

illustration not visible in this excerpt


With the advent of written language, the concern was no more with recording history, nor with mere decoration, but rather with expressiveness. The renaissance art, although largely patronized by the Christian church is believed to be the first initiator of an expressive art. The church could not stifle the imaginative abilities of artists such as Leonardo, Raphael, or Michelangelo. Despite the fact that artists depicted religious themes, it is in the renaissance that aesthetic concerns were brought to the fore. Painting turned into a serious job with schools and patrons. Realism reached stunning beauty and grace. The forms, colors, and lines were given prominence over content (see the chapter on visual art and literature.)

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Fig. 7 Chinese pictographs

Fig. 6 Tomb of Sennedjem, 19th Dynasty, c.1292-1190 BC. Thebes, egypt

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From the renaissance, onwards art liberated itself from the constraints of mere communication, pure decoration, factual history, or flat religious symbolism into an expressive form par excellence. Movements or trends such as baroque, rococo, or modern art all expressed different concepts, or typified notions of individuality.

In the same vein, words followed more or less the same path. Initially as images, in the hieroglyphic form of writing, words took a different form with alphabetical letters. Nevertheless, their first manifestation was verbal. People spoke to communicate, and then used the alphabet to form words, phrases, and sentences to write. Their writings served to record important events of their life, reflect upon their surrounding world, and then imagine novel situations. Language gave way to communication, history, philosophy, and then literature.

This way, akin to images, words moved from communicative, to historical into expressive if not artistic purposes in the form of literature. Words are naturally still used to communicate, record historical facts, to reflect upon many subjects of different natures such as philosophy, psychology, anthropology… by contrast to images which no more serve for communicative, or historical recording purposes. It is true that images are still found in the traffic to signal danger, or in waiting rooms to forbid smoking. But this communication is restricted to certain simple uses since people naturally and unconsciously use language instead. It is not also the case to find history engraved in images, nor pictorial books of history either. Images are now mostly associated with art in the form of photography and paintings. Nevertheless, the richness of images in the modern world in a large sense of the word are gaining ground, particularly in the media where people are more attracted by the moving image which gradually is undermining the static word.

To this end, this study re-evaluates the importance of the word through the image, a static one albeit, but familiar to the reader, and richer enough to generate his/ her ideas. The familiarity of the image goes beyond the visual aspect and resides in the mind of the reader since human beings are endowed with what is called visual thinking that the next essay discusses.

Visual thinking

As previously explained early human beings used to express their thoughts using pictures. It can be inferred that with the absence of language what was inherent to their thoughts are imaginings, mental pictures, recalled scenes forming visual imagery alongside kinesthetic imagery, tactile imagery….that they depicted on walls, stones, and rocks to communicate with each other. Thus, they mainly thought in images since language was absent. With the advent or the sophistication of the latter the situation changed in that their thoughts strayed to words that served verbal communication. The question one may ask is whether this ‘thinking in images’ is still existing today in par with language, the most conspicuous manifestation of human thoughts? Although visual art expresses thoughts in images, it is often believed to be driven by feelings and emotions that are particular to certain people- artists in general. The contention whether we are all artists in the sense of image thinkers has been dealt with within cognitive psychology researches.

One of the most influential studies in this trend is Paivio’s (1969) dual coding theory which postulates that imagery and thought both operate at different levels. Visual thinking derives its content from concrete sensory experience while verbal thinking is more concerned with abstract notions (Cited in Tisseron, 1997, p. 25, 26). For instance, one can visually think of a tree, ball, or a laptop, but can think of concepts such as truth or honesty only in a verbal manner; yet pictures and words that are easily conceived in the mind can be represented both verbally and visually while abstract thoughts can be represented only verbally. (Cohen, 1976, p.519).

According to Cohen (1976), visual imagery is more conducive to creative thinking since;

Visual images are not just passively experienced. They are constructed, modified and manipulated to meet the demands of the task. (Ibid, p. 516)

However their absence is not a handicapping factor, for the congenitally blind have been proved to be as intellectually potent since they make use of other symbolical representations in the form of tactile and verbal imagery (Ibid, p. 521). Besides, individuals encode experience verbally and visually with different degrees. Some individuals may be more predisposed to use imagery in their thinking processes, while others may be more prone to rely on linguistic cues. (Ibid, p. 521)

Additionally, Arnheim (1980) argues that thinking visually is indivisible from perception. According to him, individuals do not perceive, store, and then reflect, but actually perceive and think at the same time (p. 489). Perceived material propels thinking, and visual thinking cannot occur without perceiving. He gives the example of a large box containing three layers of nine cubes. The large box is painted in red. If we stop to think about how many cubes would be red in three sides, and how many would keep their original color, we will draw from perception to visualize cubic objects and then simultaneously will reflect upon them, hence thinking visually; as Arnheim (1980) explained “In order to see we had to think; and we had nothing to think about if we were not looking” (p. 492).

This form of reasoning becomes clearer when we think of artistic activities, for “A person who paints, writes, composes, dances… thinks with his senses” (Arnheim, 1969, p. v preface). In the same vein, Sartre (1948) argued that a poet has a mute relationship with objects; even after naming them, he is concerned with feeling and touching them. He thinks in images rather than in words (p. 20).

However, the blending of perception and thinking is not merely restricted to the arts. It is on the contrary essential to strengthen “the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in any field of endeavor” (Arnheim, 1969, p. 3). Well exposition to visual material may help students to think visually, particularly in literature where they need to visually imagine and think about the work. By way of illustration, Raphael, the renaissance painter confessed to count Baldassare Castiglione “in order to paint a beautiful woman I should need to see several fair ones” (Ibid, p. 97, 98).

Visual Styles

The visual element is prevailing in the thoughts of individuals at varying degrees. Some people need to visualize, words, and ideas, to grasp their meaning, while other need to visualize scenes of a related narrative. Still others need images for recall, or as a starting point for their imagination. Images may also serve to motivate certain others. It is to cater for those needs and preferences that images may be of vital importance in the literature classroom.

Images abound in literature, their visualization and grasp depends on the ability of the reader to envision scenes already imagined by the author. This process of reconstructing from words images requires a rich imagery store. Some students lack the ability to visualize words as they were less exposed to visual materials. While others, though familiarized to images, may need a visual material to trigger their imagination or upon which to reconstruct novel pictures. Other students totally rely on their visual abilities to understand any material, let alone literature. Indeed, Gardner’s theory posits multiple intelligences (linguistic, logical mathematical, intrapersonal, interpersonal…), among which the spatial intelligence, which relies on “mental visualization, and mental transformation of images”. 226 multiple intelligences. Hence, presenting relevant images to students has an aim to provide them with the tools either to visualize, understand or imagine.

Alongside, Gardner’s spatial intelligence, image superiority hypothesis postulates that pictures instantaneously call to mind imaginal representations that are intrinsically more memorable than verbal representations (Richardson, 1980, p. 62). This hypothesis has been confirmed by a number of studies that examined the relationship between images and memory (see Nickerson (1965), Goldstein and Chance (1974), Standing (1973),

Conezio and Haber (1970) in Richardson op. cit., p. 61). The results of these studies are unfailing to the idea that pictorial mental representation enhances recall and information storage. Ideas become more memorable from the moment they turn into images.

Further studies have demonstrated that visual imagery plays a major role in the retention not only of ideas, but also of a narrative. In point of fact, such studies examined the semantic ambiguity of sentences, which is believed, if unveiled, leaves no room for the verbal recall of the sentence. In other words, once the individual reader understands an ambiguous sentence, he or she forgets the wording. For a connected narrative, the concern of which is to recall ideas, if ambiguous, renders the task of the reader more difficult. (Pompi and Lachman, 1967)(Bregman and Strasberg; 1968; Sachs, 1967) (Bransford, Barclay and Franks, 1972; Fillenbaum, 1973; Johnson- Laird and Stevenson, 1970; Sachs, 1967, in Richardson, op. cit., p. 112).

Subsequently, it has been suggested to provide a significant picture or title to ease the comprehension and recall of an equivocal passage. Bransford and Johnson, 1972; Dooling and Lachman, 1971) Ibid).

Finally, more of a liking, than a mere style, images may be motivating for students to study literature. A simple change in the methodology may prove to be effective if used appropriately. Images relates in a way or another to the life of students as they live in an environment where pictures has become prevailing, if not overwhelming. Familiarization to literature may be achieved through a familiar object, that is, pictures. Nevertheless, the introduction of pictures in the classroom is no substitute for the basic text, but rather a simple aid.


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The Uses of Images in the Study and Teaching of Literature
Art - Visual arts general, stylistics, Literature
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uses, images, study, teaching, literature
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Mehdi El Mouden (Author), 2008, The Uses of Images in the Study and Teaching of Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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