Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2022

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author's Department

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Illustration & Visual Culture

Degree Type



This thesis essay accompanies a built installation of twenty-six densely drawn illustrations, each consisting of numerous creatures and objects whose names all begin with the same letter. Thus, each illustration represents a different letter of the alphabet. Printed on cloud-shaped substrates and suspended as a group in a 10”x10” ring, the array of illustrations form a small space where viewers can immerse themselves in the act of free and careful looking. This essay elaborates on the ideas that propelled the design and construction of this illustrated installation.

This essay explores the potential for illustration to create a space for looking where children can practice and develop visual perception, recover a sense of wonder, and learn to navigate the complexities of a digital world awash in images. Drawing on the work of philosopher Josef Pieper, I unpack the potential for the visual noise of the digital media environment to create a literal and figurative blindness that interferes with individual autonomy and obfuscates the deeper meanings and connections written in the cosmos. The relationship between Merlin and Wart in Disney’s 1963 The Sword in the Stone (based on T.H. White’s book of the same title) serves as a hermeneutic metaphor for how the introduction of new perspectives can equip children with the tools of discernment and agency in the face of an overwhelming environment. Comparing the densely illustrated wimmelbook genre of picture books to the ancient Roman templum, I argue—with the help of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marshall McLuhan’s concept of counter-environment—for the indispensable value of setting aside spaces for observation.

I argue that analog spaces set aside for careful looking can help viewers to develop adaptive skills for navigating complex, information-rich environments, especially those dominated by digital screens and Internet connections. Furthermore, the practice of careful looking helps to cultivate dispositions of receptivity and wonder and points to the possibility of a discernible meaning in the cosmos.



Program Chair

John Hendrix