CfP: The Illustrator as Public Intellectual


Call for Papers

Illustrators and all who study their work have long understood the importance of pictures to communicate ideas and shape opinion, and to possibly provoke the viewer in unpredictable ways. What should illustrators say in the public sphere? What forces limit the illustrator’s expression of thought? What are the key issues and debates around the communication of ideas through illustration?

Organized and hosted by the Illustration Research Network and RISD Illustration, the 6th annual International Illustration Research Symposium invites proposals for papers, panels, round tables, and visual presentations on the theme of the illustrator as not only conveyor of established intellectual thought in the public sphere, but also as a vital, potent voice in public discourse and the author of content through independent provocation, seduction and persuasion.
The Illustrator as Public Intellectual questions the common misconceptions that the illustrator’s mind and hand are wholly guided by editors, art directors, and clients; and that their work is subordinate to the texts they illustrate. This symposium proposes that illustrators are empowered as originators and purveyors of unique thought.

The visual languages of the illustrator not only translate content, they transform it, indelibly inscribing ideas with force and conviction at the intersection of visual and verbal thinking. And yet, public exposition is dogged by inevitable challenges, including balancing profundity and accessibility, intention and misinterpretation. Papers may embrace or reject the concept of the public intellectual, while addressing relationships between communicative intention and audience reception.
The definition of illustration is open to wide interpretation by participants, but as a general guideline illustration may be provisionally defined as fabricated images primarily created to elucidate and communicate an idea, narrative, mood, information, and/or opinion through publication. Studies on the illustration of any era or place are welcome.

300-word proposals for 20-minute academic papers and practice-based presenta.tions are invited, and may address the following questions, or others that the presenter feels are warranted:

  • Studio Practices
    • How do different forms, techniques, and materials affect attitudes, feelings, ideas and the legitimacy of messages?
    • How is “thought” manifested in an illustration—how do creative and visual thinking processes comprise unique forms of cognition?
    • What is the relationship between the canon of intellectual thought and illustrators’ methodologies?
    • In what ways does an image embody a philosophy?
    • What emerging technologies might further or hamper the intellectual reach of illustration?
  • Public Sphere
    • How do ethics and social responsibility impinge upon illustrators?
    • If an audience misinterprets an illustrator’s intentions, is the audience’s reading valid?
    • What happens when the interests of the intended audience are at odds with the interests of a wider audience?
    • What is the impact of technologies of dissemination, old and new, on audiences, creators, and messages?
  • Creative and Intellectual Communities
    • When, where, and how do illustrators participate in important political, social, and intellectual debates?
    • What is the intellectual community of illustrators and what challenges do they face, particularly in educating illustration students?
    • Can intellectual partnerships between illustrator, designer, author, and/or publisher exist?
    • What is the appropriate balance between an illustrator’s personal satisfaction and the client’s wishes, and what is at stake when a clash occurs?
    • What are future directions for the field of practice as a forum for public intellectual discourse?

Email 300-word abstracts to

by Monday, 1 June 2015.

Proposals are blind peer-reviewed. Selected papers and presentations will be considered for publication in forthcoming issues of the peer reviewed Journal of Illustration. More information and submission details:

Keynote Speaker:
Rick Poynor
Visiting Professor in Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art London

Rhode Island School of Design
Providence, RI, USA 6-7 November 2015