Stories in Pictures (and Non-Pictorial Objects) – A Narratological and Cognitive Psychological Approach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding


Narratological studies have quite frequently focused upon linguistic structures, considered to be paradigmatic cases of narrativity, whereas pictorial signs (such as icons and symbols) or indices have received comparably much less attention.
In this paper, however, I intend to outline some basic and regularly occurring narrative aspects of pictures and non-pictorial objects. As a point of departure, I shall suggest (influenced by approaches from cognitive psychology, e.g. the work of Roger Schank) that cognition basically consists of the storage and retrieval of action scripts or schemata (i.e. narrative structures) which may occur on various levels of abstraction. These schemas incorporate generalized knowledge about event sequences (e.g. the order in which specific events will take place; causal, enabling, or conventionalized relations between these events, and what kind of events occur at all in certain action sequences). Moreover, there are also scene schemas which are rather characterized by spatial than temporal relations. This means that we have mentally stored inventory information, i.e. what kinds of objects normally appear in such situations, as well as spatial-relation information, i.e. concerning the usual spatial layout of a scene.
Through previous experiences we acquire a large amount of such culturally based event and scene stereotypes (along with idiosyncratic variations), either due to our previously acquired, direct familiarity with instances of events, or due to our acquaintance with written, oral, and of course pictorial descriptions of them (e.g. religious or mythological tales). They include settings, sub-goals, and actions in attempting to reach specific goals.
The production and comprehension of pictorial signs, as I will claim, is frequently based upon the existence and activation of such mentally stored action and scene schemas on part of the beholders. Actually, even things in general, whether artificial or natural objects, are capable of expressing or triggering such narrative structures, thus “telling us stories”. In this paper, I shall present some examples of pictures and non-pictorial objects where narrative structures become activated and, indeed, their recognisability and comprehensibility as such presupposes these structures.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • Narratology, cognitive psychology, prototypicality, schema theory, pictures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiversities in Aesthetics - Selected Papers of the 18th Congress of Intternational Aesthetics
EditorsLang Ye, Jianping Gao, Feng Peng
PublisherPeking University
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-7-5161-2940-1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch
Event18Ith International Congress of Aesthetics - Beijing, China
Duration: 2010 Aug 92010 Aug 13


Conference18Ith International Congress of Aesthetics

Total downloads

No data available

Related research output

View all (1)