Betty Sargeant

Anthropomorphism and Morphism: Embodiment and the Picture Book


Through an analysis of my own creative practices and a study of the work of author-illustrator Shaun Tan, this paper illuminates the ways in which contemporary picture books have drawn on notions of hybridity to reinvigorate the convention of anthropomorphism. Picture books have evolved from being a genre specifically for children to a literary form that engages a wide audience. Practitioners who are aware of the broad readership of this art-form create works that can be appreciated by viewers with diverse levels of visual and literary comprehension. Having established the audience as a broad and active factor within this literary field, this paper turns to focus on the picture book as a powerful, yet non-confrontational tool: a tool that encourages thought and discussion on social change, and one that widely deploys the practice of anthropomorphism. Extending upon the analytical writings of Shaun Tan, Bruno Latour, and David Rudd this paper repositions the convention of anthropomorphism, allowing a less human-centric model to emerge. Through this discussion the term morphism is posited as a useful descriptor of transformational representations within visual literature. Through deploying this term, the hegemonic stance that is often presented via the depiction of ‘clothed animals’, or the portrayal of humans in animal form, can be challenged. This opens the potential for anyone or anything to have a voice, breaking down the traditional model that commonly depicts human domination over ‘others’ or the human domination of nature.

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Betty Sargeant:

Betty Sargeant’s latest picture book, Wayne Boris Carlo, was published in 2011 (uTales, New York). She is a graduate of fine art and creative writing and a current RMIT, PhD candidate in creative writing and visual design. Her illustration work has been exhibited at the Primo Piano LivinGallery, Lecce, Italy; Northcote Town Hall, Melbourne; and the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, St Kilda. She has been commissioned by the Arts Centre Melbourne, Regional Arts Victoria, the Queensland Arts Council and the Australian Children’s Theatre Foundation to write and design numerous theatre works for children. Betty is currently a lecturer at Charles Sturt University, NSW. She has previously lectured at the Victorian Collage of Arts and NMIT, Melbourne. Her PhD research centres around the evolution of digital picture books.