I don’t know what’s got me on this kick of reading picture book author’s writings (oh wait, it’s the
caffeine buzz that’s not allowing me to nap right now!) but I am chewing on some incredibly thought provoking words by the talented Shaun Tan now on the question of “Who are picture books for?“
The artists’ responsibility lies first and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by the force of its conviction. So it’s really quite unusual to ask “who do you do it for?”
And this especially is rather profound:
The simplicity of a picture book in terms of narrative structure, visual appeal and often fable-like brevity might seem to suggest that it is indeed ideally suited to a juvenile readership. It’s about showing and telling, a window for learning to ‘read’ in a broad sense, exploring relationships between words, pictures and the world we experience every day. But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”
Good stuff here, and in the whole essay. It’s long and thoughtful, probably appreciated by only the most die-hard of bibliozealots. Picture books are more than simply fun diversions to fill up a child’s bookshelf. Much, much more.