To home page

Annual Display in Baroda »


Annual Display in Shantiniketan »




  • Kavita 2
  • Kavita 1
  • Kavita 3
  • Kavita 4
Now Loading

The Disinterested Pleasure
Of Textbook Illustrations

Text book illustrations carry ideological messages and they are consciously devised and implemented for indoctrinating children with hegemonic ideas. Kavita Balakrishnan looks at the text book illustrations in India and says that the illustrations are made to re-orient the eternally practical logic of learning within a system of domination and subordination.

In the ideologically tight compartments of life, one almost naturally behaves like a child caught in an illusive elderly world. It is when like in a child’s life, our choices are created out of situations and acted out with no end goals but doing an act for its sake. It is where there are undisputedly illustrated patterns of behaviors in a liberated world that on a logical level never believes in controlling each other and generously lavish freedom on each other. It is a ‘disinterested pleasure’ of engagement in life and its texts.

Recent times, the genre of textbook illustrations is getting heavily problematic and it is even reflectively used by contemporary artists now. Child’s world is widely simulated. Highly knowledge -generating global citizen’s life is also becoming increasingly child-like in its apolitical and helpless endorsement to dominance yet capable of claiming certain amount of fluidly situational availability of curious freedoms.

Here I make an attempt to look at some reflective aspects of textbook illustrations as a genre that subscribes to some human conditions absolutely endorsed into ideological conditions of dominance and subordination.

How far children are affected by the visuals will always be context-specific and hence beyond the scope of this musings. But there are assumptions that by and large guide those who prepare, assign, distribute and impart knowledge through textbooks in the official systems anywhere in the world- the hierarchic body of officials and teachers. It is symptomatically grafted in the way in which visual and verbal content of knowledge are distributed, repeated and designed in textbooks.  

Visuals for better understanding of ‘more authentic’ verbal knowledge:

In the official circles, illustrations are basically supposed to ‘improve the learning of a text’, the clear and true knowledge that is ‘never allowed to be ambivalent’. The allowed illusive terrains of visuals but lie in the way interconnected trivia of memory are supposed to help the child a ‘better understanding’ of the true knowledge authorized much more importantly through verbal means in the body of the textbook. The teacher is conventionally supposed to ‘deal’ with this verbal part of the book and it is not a must deal with visuals or ‘illustrations’ except in kindergarten or in the lower primary levels to a lesser extent.

If we take a look at the textbooks from kindergarten / playgroup through the lower and upper primary classes towards the more diagrammatically posited illustrativeness in secondary levels of education, there is an apparent assumption that colourful pictures are for children and as one matures towards the higher strata of learning, one gradually needs to leave the colorful or imaginative visual world for a more authentic, precise, less visual and more diagrammatic world.

The systematic ways in which symbolic literary and narrative knowledge of the world is subsided are visible through out the textbooks as they cater to pupils of elder groups.


An in-lay of stiff situations:

Most of the textbooks endorsed by both the government and the private agencies have over the years created innumerable numbers of stiff human forms and other graphics.
Textbook pictures are marked by figures with aimless glances even when involved in acts that demand better aligned eye-contact of ‘personal’ nature. Diverging looks of the figures and lines of same thickness used for making outlines of figures mark the casual dis-interest of the artist in his/her sketching. ‘Graceful’ lines found in the ‘artistic’ elderly world are strategically avoided in textbook illustrations even as the textbooks contain elaborate water color schemes of pictures.

 The schemata of textbook illustrations are supposed to be guided through some further ideologically assumed pre-conditions.

Impersonal knowledge through pictures of objects:

Impersonal, garishly colored unreal or constructed situations are posited at many occasions. When picture shows some children playing ball, the knowledge to be assumed by the child at the end of the text intends to teach him many other important things like mocking their dialogue situations, fill in the gaps in the given sentences with suitable words, changing the sentence into plural or choosing the right pronoun etc.  Often number of mangoes is shown in a row to teach the concept of number and not about mango.

Textbook is the most intimate source for a child to learn about the way in which objects and people seen in the world can be looked with an impersonal order and often ‘taken for granted’ instinct. It is the stuff that h/she handles with care and schedules through out his years to maturity. It forms very cool source of better reasoned knowledge of practical importance to life. Result of a study conducted by Hannus M in 1998 (Textbook Illustrations : Decoration or an Aid in understanding, Psykologia 33(2):98-101. Helsinki ISSN 0355-1067) showed that the students used 94% of the processing time for processing the verbal content and only 6% of the time looking at the illustrations. In addition the students also proved not utilizing the illustrations while they were reading the text since ten year old students were already using a text-oriented model to process the pages in the textbook.

Textbook is a passage to responsible citizenship ordered through certain such ‘rigorous pleasures’. It is pleasure because knowledge is not necessarily to be sought for, but easily and definitely provided as ‘right illustration’.  It is rigorous because any visual knowledge is filtered for its possible trivia of imagination, ambiguity and fantasy.

For a textbook, a ship is a ship. It is not necessarily or not preferably an artwork. It may illustrate number concept or vocabulary or a paragraph constituted of sentences or even a story of famous ship Titanic. It is sometimes a ‘clip art’ in the digital age using Photoshop filters for watercolour effects. Ultimately it should remain as a stock motif.

A genre picture in textbook is thus easily devoid of any subjective presentations of creativity. It diverts one’s concerns systematically from the subliminal issues of seeing viewing and perceiving, instead it suggestively posits itself for the sake of practical lessons of reasoning.  

A textbook picture proposes pictorial truisms that are supposed to be imparted through the drillings of academia that often avoid any intention for subjective participation from the child as an individual that may in some way or the other re-orient or innovate the eternally practical logic of learning within a system of dominance and subordination.


Home About us Contact