Empathy with Images and Narrative

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[images online] Available at://blogs.crikey.com.au/literaryminded/2010/12/14/guest-review-gerard-elson-on-tim-burtons-the-melancholy-death-of-oyster-boy-and-other-stories/)[Accessed 15th December 2014]

Tim Burton, a man who tells stories which come with a dark shadow. The shadow that intrigues and shows a darker side to tales and fiction, and not ones that have fairytale endings.

In 1997 Burton created ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories’ a collection of twenty-three illustrated short stories. The stories comprise of a set of characters, all of which are disfigured and seen as not normal. The children come with names, like Roy, the Toxic Boy,  Stain Boy and Oyster Boy. The names alone set of the imagination and create images of children that are seen as outcasts.

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[images online] Available at://www.joblo.com/newsimages1/burtonart6-big.jpg [Accessed 15th December 2014]

Gerard Elson spoke about the characters

“…never complain, nor seem embittered, nor seek to settle the score. If they teach us anything, it’s that though life often sucks and other people can be jerks, there’s dignity in not allowing the injustice of it all to corrode your spirit or compromise your character.”

(Elson 2014)

This book explores the harder realities of life, and how if different you can become an outcast, subjected to a lonely life, yet the book gives permission that you may not be alone and that others out there can empathise with how you are feeling.

Returning to thoughts spoken in other posts about who’s need is it to avoid these darker aspects of life, and holding in mind my aim for the course, I returned to the work of Shaun McNiff, an Art Therapist who states

“To those questioning the therapeutic wisdom of welcoming disturbing figures, I can say I have never encountered an image in artwork or dream that came to harm the person experiencing it. A student once said to me “It may come to show me where I hurt, but it doesn’t want to hurt me.”

(Mc Niff, 2004 p.97)

This encompasses the ideal of creating images that do challenge and evoke emotions, and  as Tim Burton’s work clearly shows, it does not need to be explicit, but to resonate with the viewer to have a dual commonalty that the reader can empathise with.

References

  • Meyer, A, (2010) ‘Guest review: Gerard Elson on Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories'[online] Available at http://blogs.crikey.com.au/literaryminded/2010/12/14/guest-review-gerard-elson-on-tim-burtons-the-melancholy-death-of-oyster-boy-and-other-stories/) [Accessed December 15th 2014]
  • McNiff, S,(2004) ‘Art Heals, How Creativity Cures the Soul’, Shambhala, London
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Challenging subjects in picturebooks.

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[images online] Available at: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220 [Accessed 14th November 2014]

Picturebooks can often be viewed as books which contain stories that are light hearted, contain a moral or a lesson for the younger generation to learn. Often they do not handle the more challenging subjects, and when they do it can provoke reactions and avoidance from some.

When should children start to learn about the more challenging aspects of life, and what about those children who are already dealing with difficult and traumatic experiences on a daily basis, I wonder what it would be like for them to pick up a picturebook that spoke to them, resonated with a part of their life.

Wolf Erlbruch a German author and illustrator created the book Duck, Death and the Tulip (2007) (German title: Ente, Tod und Tulpe).

The story consists of two characters, a Duck who comes to know Death, and unbeknown to the duck death has been following her all her life.

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[images online] Available at :http://blaine.org/jules/DDT%20internals_Page_05.jpg [Accessed 14th November 2014]

Duck and Death become friends and talk about life, death and what happens after you die. Sitting in a tree after being diving together they wonder what would happen to Duck’s lake after she dies. The book comes to a close with the death of the Duck, and Death carries her to a river, placing her gently on the water, Death takes the tulip and places it on her,”For a long time he watched her. When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.” 

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[images online] Available at: http://blaine.org/jules/DDT%20internals_Page_16.jpg [Accessed 14th November 2014]

I can imagine this is a controversial topic for a children’s books, but the way the illustrations depict the gentleness and the empathy of Death towards Duck it handles it with delicacy of Death in a beautiful way.

My work as a Art Psychotherapist working with children I witness children dealing with real challenges more than some adults do throughout there whole life.

I understand this can be hard to contemplate, so when picture books that are created tackling the harder subjects it does cause controversy, but what I pose is, whose need is it to avoid the challenging and hard subjects?

We can not rescue and protect forever, and I wonder is it better to give children an understanding through the use of a medium they know and understand, that can allow for questions to be answered with those who care for them, a healthy exploration into the difficult aspects of life. 

I feel Wolf Erlbruch deals with the emotion of death in a manner which invites a conversation and give permission to talk about something which so many try to avoid, just like Duck not knowing Death had been following her all her life until she turned around.

References

  • Danielson, J, (2013),“You can start having strange thoughts in trees”, Or, Curiously Good Books from Around the World’, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 13th October 2013 [online] Available at:Available at :http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220 [Accessed 14th November 2014]
  •  Erlbruch,W (2007), Duck Death and the Tulip,New Zealand, Geko Press.