Louise Bell

PhD candidate - Falmouth University, Associate lecturer - Plymouth University, Falmouth University


Louise Bell

Louise Bell

empathic attention: illustration as an affective space for encounter


I propose that the act of illustration aligns with Edith Stein’s paradigm of empathy. I will explore this positioning with my PhD research which employs processes of perception as an ​other way of knowing ​a subject, object or even place. This presents illustration as a subjective space for affective encounter between subject and object and methodologically follows the qualitative research process interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Illustration is used as a research tool as a means of moving away from empirical learning hierarchies and to offer a distinctive intentional experience as a recursive means of generating knowledge. Empathy, according to Stein, is the direct and experiential coming to know of another’s embedded embodied experience. It is not an absolute understanding of another’s experience but rather an offer of accompaniment producing a feeling of approximated understanding. The accompaniment is an investment of time and attention. Illustration’s ability to communicate marks it as a connective practice. I claim that this fundamental aspect of illustration defines it as empathic. Illustration, like empathy, is an active and recursive process; there is an ongoing feedback loop between what is observed and what is not so that knowledge is always partial, with edges or boundaries. The illustrator’s investment of time and attention creates a space for a ​slowness ​or ​deepness ​of looking. Such space offers opportunities to observe intricacies of the subject so that previously overlooked details emerge. This allows us to envision and explore diverse perspectives all the while probing our own subjectivity. We discern complexity without reducing it and interpretation is deferred until the process of empathy imparts a more enriched understanding. Through the act of illustration, the illustrator empathically gains an approximation of the subject’s experience. Even though such knowledge is partial, the attention upheld with intention offers a perspective previously unglimpsed.


Louise Bell teaches illustration at the University of Plymouth and Falmouth University. She is currently writing-up her practice-based Ph.D ​‘Illustration as Empathic Attention: using creative practice as an other way of knowing place’,​ funded by AHRC through the 3D3 consortium at Falmouth University. Her research examines how illustration, as a multimodal historiographic arts practice, can empathically engage with place.