Pushing the Limits of Narrative Illustration Faculty Spotlight, August 2018
Think of your favorite book. Fiction. Most likely, over the course of a number of pages, a character encounters a conflict and moves through a plot with rising action, a climax, and a resolution of some sort – yes? Now, try to imagine: instead of all of the people, places, and things moving throughout that book, there are only abstract shapes on those pages. No words. No recognizable images. How much of the story do you think that illustrator would be able to communicate?
Nicholas McNally, Assistant Professor of Illustration, is taking a break from his traditional, realistic work to perform this experiment. His hypothesis: viewers will experience a wholly different, yet equally rich, understanding of the original story. Viewers will more readily grasp overarching themes, recognize patterns of symbolic balance and discord in the writer’s style and experience a powerful emotional impact.
All of this would amount to tapping into rarely exercised functions of the brain. The non-artist seldom engages in acts of pure visual perception. To appreciate an abstract painting is one thing, but to dedicate a prolonged period to a sequence of non-figurative images with the focus required for reading a novel – that would take some serious effort. It would mean the willingness to perceive the strange form of a grand abstract visual sequence and to interpret it into the familiar form of a concrete, literal story – simultaneously in the mind’s eye.
In his courses, McNally teaches the basics of illustration. The most basic rule is that an illustration must clearly communicate an idea or a narrative. That is what a client expects. However, illustration is no mere “commercial art.” Illustration is a fine art and its potential to be explored in fulfilling, creative ways is happening right here at JU.
To see more of McNally’s work, visit www.nicholasmcnally.com