The 13th Annual Illustration Research Symposium will be held at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 2-4, 2023.

Events will be jointly hosted by Washington University Libraries, the Dowd Illustration Research Archive, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and the MFA in Illustration and Visual Culture program (IVC).

We invite 300-word abstracts for papers that explore blind spots in the field of illustration studies, including but not limited to those posed below. In addition to questions of practice, research, and scholarship, we invite proposals addressing issues faced by archives, libraries, and museums in the field of illustration, including challenges of preservation, presentation, and exhibition.


The deadline for paper submissions has passed.

Authors of accepted papers were notified on February 1, 2023. Speakers will have twenty minutes each to present their work in three-person panels.

Graduate student submissions will be juried separately for a designated “lightning round” of 7-minute presentations.

Information concerning registration for the conference will be posted in the new year.

Please send any questions to Professor of Art Doug Dowd at

As a field illustration has suffered from obstructed views. Traditional art history and institutions of high visual culture once looked past it, due in part to the interdependence of illustration and text. Writers since Wordsworth have pooh-poohed the presence of images in print as a distraction from “discourse.” These ancient blind spots have been well documented, and some progress has been made in positioning illustration in the broader universe of visual culture. Indeed, for the last dozen years, through a program of annual symposia, the Illustration Research Network has fostered and promoted research on illustration history, theory, practice, and pedagogy as a vital subject of inquiry. But blind spots remain, both within and beyond the field.

What are some of these blind spots? For starters, our histories are incomplete. Many illustration and cartooning careers from the last century remain un-excavated or under-contextualized, particularly those of women and people of color. Despite efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion across the field, questions concerning sensitive representation of all people(s) in contemporary illustration practice remain live ones—both quantitatively and qualitatively. Who gets seen, and in what light?

As a mass market form often driven by advertising revenue, illustration long relied on fixed gender and racial tropes, obscuring fluid identities in communities of production and reception. Practitioners and audiences were obscured in that process. How did creators subvert or even sidestep enforced compliance in the representation of gender and race? How have the costs of access to the means of production and/or networks of distribution changed? How do illustrators navigate these questions today?

The institutions that collect illustration-related materials––relatively few in number, and less well-networked than ideal––face their own challenges of perspective and practice. Their contents—typically ephemeral and fugitive—remain invisible to many audiences who would value them. Not unrelatedly, academic study of such materials has tended to privilege elite or “influential” cultural forms, obscuring demotic or vernacular ones, How do curators, archivists, and other professionals overcome these challenges, or struggle and fail to do so?

How do practitioners and scholars account for and manage the complexities of reception, use, and translation of illustration, which tends to migrate into “hidden” or “invisible” corners of private enjoyment, topical fandom, even cultish fixation. What are the benefits and costs of addressing such audiences?

New trends in public life and culture, including new habits of censorship—book banning, mural covering, online iconoclasms, “cancelling”—have raised the stakes of engagement with illustration and its cultural meanings. How are illustrators coping with these challenges? Due to the realities of practice—long hours at their drawing tables and computers—illustrators have always fought isolation. The atomization of online culture has made things worse. In this bewildering cultural moment, how do illustrators manage getting safely “seen,” and by whom? What could a new, healthy visibility look like?

Other blind spots have emerged with the mass-technologization of visual culture. On one hand, large technology firms like Google and Meta/Facebook now hire staff illustrators at enviable salaries to address multilingual audiences. On the other, illustration labor has become increasingly hidden and devalued due to the contraction of print and especially online piracy and appropriation. AI image production threatens to eliminate the illustrator altogether.

More foundationally, there are the blind spots that are built into a field rooted in the widespread practices of reading from codexes, which dominated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and accompanied the emergence of illustration as a profession. These practices have since been substantially replaced by screens, scrolling, and audiobooks. Undeniably “the text” has changed—has illustration? Are such changes visible, or hidden in ubiquity?

Illustration research has undeniably expanded and deepened. How have such alternative and expanded practices––in pedagogy, publishing, and exhibition––expanded sight lines, and what remains to be discovered or critiqued?

Omissions, occlusions, under-seen developments, hidden opportunities: so much to see past and through! Join us in November 2023 to explore these and other questions together!