Word and Image
Samuel Beckett and the Visual Text--An Exhibition and Symposium

By Lois More Overbeck, Research Associate and Associate Editor, The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett


For more information
about the exhibition, symposium, and other events related to Word and Image: Samuel Beckett and the Visual Text, click here.


Academic Exchange October/November 1999 Contents Page

In November and December, more than thirty fine artists' editions of texts by playwright Samuel Beckett will be displayed in the Robert W. Woodruff Library's Schatten Gallery. The exhibition, Word and Image: Samuel Beckett and the Visual Text, is the result of collaborative efforts between the library and the Beckett Correspondence Project, based in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences since 1990. With the leadership of associate editors Martha Fehsenfeld and Lois Overbeck, the project is preparing the definitive scholarly edition of Beckett's letters. The library has assembled an extensive collection of Beckett's published work in support of this editorial project, including many of the livres d'artistes, or artists' books,
featured in the exhibition.

In conjunction with Word and Image, Emory will host a symposium November 11­13 which will bring to campus a number of the international artists whose work is included in the exhibition. Stanford University Professor of Humanities Marjorie Perloff will deliver the keynote address on November 12. Along with a discussion with visiting artists, the symposium events will include talks by Dalia Judovitz, Emory Professor of French and Italian; Overbeck; and Breon Mitchell, Indiana University Professor of German; as well as Theater Emory performances and a panel of graduate students presenting work in progress.

Together, these events will examine the place of the
livre d'artiste within the twentieth-century art book tradition and Beckett's life and work. They will also open interdisciplinary dialogue concerning the dynamics of word and image in the visual and written arts.

For more information about these events, click here or contact Lois Overbeck at lmoverb@emory.edu or 727-6840.


The literary and artistic culture of the twentieth-century avant-garde both informed and were formed by Beckett's writing. In his own work, Beckett incessantly questioned and explored the limits of language and form as well as the tension between words and image. His writing extended the boundaries of all the genres for which he wrote (poetry, fiction, drama for stage, radio, film, and television). At issue during this symposium and exhibition will be methodological responses to the juxtaposition of words and images in the twentieth-century avant-garde.

The thirty-eight fine artists' editions we gathered for this exhibition are, in a sense, "created rare." Because of their rarity, livres d'artistes are seldom seen, except by the connoisseur collector or the scholar who seeks them out for private study. As Beckett bibliographer Breon Mitchell has noted, it comes as a surprise to many readers to discover that Beckett's works have appeared in expensive and limited editions, illustrated with original graphics by major artists. Such books seem by their very nature at odds with Beckett's austere texts, with what most readers know of his ascetic life, and with the desire he once expressed "to live in a totally bare room, with no books, no pictures, just four empty walls." Yet time and again Beckett allowed his texts to first appear in luxurious illustrated editions, available to only a fortunate few.

It was as readers that the idea for this exhibition caught hold of our imaginations. Each book, hand-crafted and executed with great regard for the text, is itself an objet d'art. And at the same time, the story of each conjunction between an artist and the Beckett text, creates a new "reading" of the work. Not only does the exhibition make more widely known the place of the livre d'artiste within the twentieth-century avant-garde tradition, but it invites a new "regard" of the text and new questions about the fundamental yet constantly changing dynamic of exchange between word and image in this century. In the twentieth-century livre d'artiste, the image has been released from its function of decorating or explaining the text. In the contemporary examples of the exhibition, the image is a reaction to the text--as Mitchell says, "variations on a theme, a shape, a tone."

These books present a wide range of artistic responses to Samuel Beckett's texts that, at their best, establish a creative dialogue between word and image with implications far beyond Beckett's own work. The twenty international artists represented in the exhibition-including such well-known contemporary artists as Jasper Johns and Avigdor Arikha-employ a variety of graphic means, including some highly experimental printmaking techniques. Conversations with artists Sorel Etrog, Charles Klabunde, Manfred Garstka, Dellas Henke, and Hans Brøndum will help us appreciate the intensity and range of these responses to Beckett's texts. As photographs, letters, and other documents included in the exhibition show, the process of discovery and creative exploration differs for each artist.

While this exhibition is a celebration of Beckett's own artistry, the works exhibited are also a site for the literary and visual arts to meet. The result is striking beauty and power that reminds us, once again, of the collaborative nature of artistic creativity.