William Blake’s Emoji

Composite Art and Composition


  • Matthew Leporati The College of Mount Saint Vincent


Image and text, William Blake, electronic communication


This article explores how college instructors can use William Blake’s unique pairing of image and text – what W.J.T. Mitchell calls “composite art” – to encourage students to think and write about the dynamic interplay of image and text in modern communications. Opening with an anecdote of teaching Songs of Innocence and of Experience in writing classes, the article first traces the similarities between Blake’s composite art and the “emojis” popular in electronic messages. Like emojis, the images in Blake’s work (especially those in the margins and those intertwined with the lettering) underline, develop, transform, and in some cases challenge the text with which they are paired. The article then examines how studying Blake’s work can help students think critically about the function of emojis. Growing numbers of people, especially college students, are increasingly using images to express ideas every day. When composition and literature classes ignore the centrality of images in much of today’s communications, they pass up an opportunity to prompt students to examine their own daily engagement in a kind of modern composite art. The final section explores strategies for incorporating image and text into classroom lessons and a series of assignments. These assignments gradually lead students into deeper considerations of the role of visual elements in communication.

Author Biography

Matthew Leporati, The College of Mount Saint Vincent

Matthew Leporati is an Assistant Professor of English at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City, where he serves as Writing Specialist. His published work and conference presentations examine mindful writing pedagogy, especially in the context of teaching British Romanticism, as well as the interrelation of form and content in literature. His latest research project studies the intersection of the Romantic-era epic revival, British imperialism, and the beginning of the modern missionary enterprise. Matthew’s essays and reviews have appeared in RomanticismStudies in RomanticismThe CEA CriticThe CEA ForumHumanities, and European Romantic Review. His most recent publication, a chapter on teaching satire in the writing classroom (co-written with Rob Jacklosky), appeared in Isn’t It Ironic? Irony in Contemporary Popular Culture (Routledge, 2021).