You may look at my art and appreciate the beauty of the piece for the upfront aesthetics. Perhaps, you find yourself contemplating how unappealing my art is. Of course there are a myriad of other reactions beside those two, and by no means am I trying to set up a false dichotomy. Instead, I wish to explore what perturbs or enlightens people in regards to art, signs and symbols. In this blog post, I wish to explore why we like or dislike something, and what is the point of an artistic piece? I will use my artistic expression to explore these questions.
Art takes dedication, patience, vision, creativity,which all universally requires time. Time, as we know, is precious because it is limited and can’t be given back, but it is also something that is irrefutably shared by all creatures. Bearing that in mind, when a project requires time devotion it is seldomly for no reason. For example, we may be buying our time with distractions, like doodling in class, but one reason we doodle is to escape boredom in a topic we are disinterested. If art takes time to craft there must be some underlying motive as to why someone, like me, would spend their allotted time drawing.
When we look at art there is something about the piece that either provokes something we feel or like, or something we don’t like. It could be the color, the composition, the symbolism used, the style, the medium, the list is an endless slew of things that could enhance or irk someone’s impression of the piece. As an artist, I play with these factors, sometimes I try and cater to my target audience, while other times it is strictly a personal piece. Regardless, there is a motive for making my art. The motive varies of course depending on a multitude of factors like time, clientele, mood, and whether this is meant to be personal message or idea. All of these thing affect the outcome and story the composition is displaying.
What I am trying to get at is that art is language. Much like a book, my art tells stories. This story can be personal or shared. Books, like art, typically have a story, meaning, title, and theme. Written works have authors, while visually creative pieces have artists. It is interesting to note that languages originated as drawings. Think of cave drawings, hieroglyphs, Mesoamerican wall carvings and ancient Chinese characters. Before written words we as a species used to use images. Even today, we use images to display idea that may be hard to articulate. Think of books with images used as references. Or, infographics used in scientific reports and journals. Also, think of logos which seek to condense and encapsulate the integrity of a business. All are used to enhance and condense ideas that would be hard to articulate if communicated with words. In a nutshell, I am alluding to a whole field of study called semiotics. For those unfamiliar with the term, a quick Wikipedia search reveals that semiotics is “ the study of meaning-making, the philosophical theory of signs and symbols.” The article also adds that “Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. As different from linguistics, however, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems.” In essence, art and language are deeply intertwined and interconnected, and thereby enhance one another.
Now, let’s go full circle here and I will describe to you the semiotics of my piece. First, the inspiration for this piece was the overarching theme of cycles. In particular, the cycle of life, death, and renewal. Let me clarify renewal for a moment since this could be renewal as in reincarnation, or it could mean replenishing/replacing what was lost with something new. The definition of renewal is personal according to people’s personal beliefs. I am not going to impose what that means for you. I will say, for me, it is a combination of the two. Part of cycles made me think of the moon due to the lunar phases. The moon triggers me to think about the Greek Goddess Artemis (or Diana in Roman mythology). For those unfamiliar, Artemis is the Goddess of hunting, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity, and protecting young women (courtesy of wikipedia). I then thought of things that had phases, cycles or other meanings that supported my overall theme of life, death, and renewal. To breakdown the semiotics of my piece I created a chart below.
A list of symbols used, and a brief description of what they mean:
- Moon: cycles ( think moon phases)
- Female: life & renewal; birth. Also, some people say females are more associated with nature, whereas males are more associated with culture (as portrayed in “Is female to male as nature is to culture?” by Sherry Ortner)
- Skull: death
- Weapons( spear, bow and arrow): death; killing, renewal; decomposing, and life; hunting for food- sustenance- which allows an organism to persist
- Waves: life; flowing, changing, influence (supposedly by the moon), calm & aggressive
- Moon: phases, changes, patterns, mystery
- Mountains: sturdy, fixed, growing and shrinking (via tectonic plates), division and distribution ( b/c of ecotone, overall mass, and look)
- Fibonacci Spiral: It is everywhere in life
- Leaves: seasonal, changes, cycles, phases, renewal, life (during the season), death (winter- no leaves)
Next time you look at art, perhaps you will look twice and think about the ‘why’s’ of a piece. Art is more than a series of images put together, like a sentence is more than words thrown together. There is meaning and motives behind the artform, which is why people spend large sums of time (and $!) to devote to their passion. I hope I have shown you the depth of art as well as highlighted some of the connections between art and language.
For the record, the piece above is in progress. I am still deciding how to complete this work. Paint? Markers? Colored Pencils? What colors? What textures? What effects I want to create. The meaning is still developing since the use of colors adds a new dimension and added complexity to the piece. Stay tuned to see what choices I make and which directions I take….