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.
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.
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?