Some books, stories and poems seem to stick in the collective psyche and go on to inspire visual representations both in their own time and many years later.

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Many of these works are well-known folk stories, maybe told over centuries before a definitive version is written down, while others become part of the cultural canon through years of study and retelling. But there are a few works that, in a relatively short space of time, have become embedded in the way we think about the world. The Alice in Wonderland books are these last type. Since they were first published (just over 150 years ago) they have provided inspiration for visual art in practically all its forms. A new show at Tate Liverpool explores the influence that the books have had on generations of artists – starting with Carroll’s original manuscript, written as a present for ten-year-old Alice Liddell, and coming right up to the present day with artists like Peter Blake and Yayoi Kusama.

Annelies Strba Nyima 438

Annelies Štrba
Nyima 438 2009

© Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

So why have the Alice books inspired so many generations of artists? Themes such as the journey from childhood to adulthood, or perspective, perception and reality are of course not specific to the Alice books, but what is it about Carroll’s descriptions that draws artists to work with them? What continues to makes them relevant in today’s culture, which is so different from the world in which they were created? And in fact, are artists or writers always really responding directly to the books, or have they now become a form of cultural shorthand to refer to anything that plays with scale or surreal worlds?

What other literary works have this enduring power, or indeed are appropriated in similar ways – what are the key things that drive works of literature to become visually influential?

Comments

julesbulman

I don't think Lewis Carroll has infact inspired many artists. Alice might come in to people's dreams from childhood reading and scares. But visual art has too evolved to be going back to Alice.

Caroline

Of course literature inspires art, because what we read creates emotions and we react to the characters, their environment and what happens to them. But it inspires art not only in it's traditional form but all media today draws from stories, if you believe film is an art form (which I do) then every image is inspired from words on a page, and look what Tim Burton did for the Alice stories, creating yet another visual interpretation from classic literature.

Emc

Surely the biggest book to inspire art is the bible, or alternatively the stories from Hindu mythology among many others of religious orientation. Greek tragedies, shakespere, French 19th century literature, not to mention the works of art that are made AS illustrations... Does Winnie the pooh count.

Cheryl Gruendemann

One of the joys of reading is the visual aspect the reader conjures from the words. Remember the consternation when it was announced that the Lord of the Rings would become a series of movies? People have worlds they hold dear, built through layers of reads and rereads of favorite works. Of course the artist is no different, in that they too have these kingdoms within! And the themes are universal and timeless, of course they become fodder for the imaginative! A marriage made in heaven... whatever that might be! Think of the influence of the Greeks and Romans on our art, of the works devoted to Shakespeare's characters. Anytime a writer opens the world of words within the readers heart, images flourish! It's our gift... one of those left beneath our pillow in childhood.

HA

The attitudes of fictional worlds and characters can inform and influence the arts from appropriation of titles.

su fahy

It is by engineering the imagination through reading and allowing this to act as a catalyst for work.

Strata

mmmmmmh.

Literature is reality through a sieve. Paintings inspired from literature is then reality but squeezed through muslin fabric.

mmmmmmh.

Dércio Pereira

Of course.I love comics.For me it was an introduction to literature with art.Thank god it is an affordable medium of self expression.If used properly it can convey the artistic freedom of narrating of some kind.They are visual storytellers that I grew to love over the many years.Some introduced me to many other expression forms.So I love the new "folk" stories to some extent.

Jo Brown

The poems of Emily Bronte were my inspiration for a series of abstract paintings and drawings for the Bronte Parsonage Museum last year that attempted to create the atmosphere experienced from the writing.