The jury working.

The jury’s work

Andreas Berg, spokesperson for the selecting jury and former Professor of Illustration at Konstfack, announced the names of the selected illustrators on November 20. This is what he said about the jury’s work.

It is a great honour for Swedish illustrators and an honour for everyone in this country working with children’s books in general and picture books in particular, that Sweden has been invited to participate as guest of honour at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna in its 50th anniversary year, 2013. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the largest “professionals only” Children’s Books event in the world, featuring exhibitors from 66 countries in a space that is larger than four football pitches put together. The invitation signifies the respect that international experts have for Swedish publishing.

In the Swedish publishing industry, children’s books and cookbooks stand out. An increased interest in cooking and more widespread expertise have raised restaurant standards and propelled Swedish chefs to international recognition during the last few decades. Nevertheless, with the best will in the world it would be difficult to argue that Swedish restaurants generally have a reputation for excellence or that the Swedish cuisine stands out in any particular way, save for fermented herring and crispbread. Swedish picture books, on the other hand, have been considered world class for over a century.

I was part of an advisory jury tasked with selecting about thirty contemporary picture book artists for an illustration exhibit in Bologna in 2013. The assignment was both interesting and demanding. As mentioned before, the volume and quality of published picture books in Sweden are both high. The jury included researchers, publishers, and illustrators. Many questions were posed. We discussed selection boundaries and objective criteria. Is it still relevant today to talk about Swedish illustrations, when images are stored electronically and transmitted across the globe at the click of a mouse?

The first thing the advisory group was able to agree on was a motto for our work: “A child’s eye view.” Children’s books, illustrations and illustrators have influenced the Swedish outlook on children and children’s needs – an area where Sweden stands out. Sweden was the first country in the world to institute mandatory sex education in schools (1955) and the first to outlaw corporal punishment (1977). During the Second World War, Swedish families took in 70,000 children evacuated from the war in Finland. Today, Sweden accepts more unaccompanied child refugees than any other Western nation.

After deciding on the “A child’s eye view” as the title of our work, we implemented a nomination process that allowed time for nominations to come in. We discussed specific works by each illustrator added to the shortlist, a list that was growing longer and longer. Eventually, we had 80 names, which just goes to show the quality and breadth of Swedish illustrators overall. We discussed the apparent dominance of women within the industry, but concluded that it was not the task of the jury to effectuate change in that respect. The number of men in the final group was proportional to the number of men on the shortlist.

We discussed Swedish citizens working abroad and foreign citizens working in Sweden – the former were removed from the list, while the latter remained. The thirty-one illustrators chosen to represent Sweden in Bologna in 2013 live and work in this country. We selected illustrators who have published important works in the last twenty years and who are still active. Regrettably, we had to remove certain recently deceased illustrators from the list. We attempted to ignore the market-driven genre and age categories for books.

To the best of our ability, we made our selections based on artistic considerations. Our discussions included series and titles that are considered artist books. From an early stage, we excluded chapter books, instead placing a premium on story-telling through pictures. Consequently, we also excluded pure teaching aids, even though this is a genre with a proud tradition in Sweden, and which numbers many an accomplished illustrator among its practitioners. I believe we all subscribe to Lennart Hellsing’s statement: “All educational art is bad art, but all good art is educational.”

Andreas Berg – spokesperson for the Swedish Arts Council Advisory Board, editor of the first survey of Swedish illustrations, Professor of Illustration at Konstfack, 1998-2007

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