Thursday, November 15, 2012

Symbols and Signs

Pot Pourri - Herbert James Draper

Roses automatically symbolize love. Our culture is littered with these references and it makes it impossible to look at an image, without sensing a romantic undertone. Although Draper is fully aware of what the rose represents and the entire image speaks of romance. The figure is created using soft brushstrokes, which filters the image through a dreamlike haze. Her face is in shadow and this has a particular effect. Viewers find it easier to identify with figures whose face is not completely represented. Therefore we empathize more, with this woman in love because we see ourselves within her. 

Identifying with simplified images is something Scott McCloud talked about in the book, Understanding Comics. It may seem bizarre to talk about this painting in relation to comics, but McCloud highlighted how a viewer can more easily identify with a cartoon face rather than a realistic image.  This is because realism contains a large amount of detail, and this pushes the viewer to see the person as someone else. When they are faced with less detail, they find it easier to see themselves within the image. This is a concept that Nike took further in a series of commercials in which a cartoon stick man played sport, against some of the best sportsmen in the world. They recognized that the audience would find it easier to identify with the stick man, because the simplification of the image had created a symbol that would represent anyone. Herbert Draper cannot reduce the painting to a cartoon, because the image must hold true to the realism within his practice. However, Draper realizes that he can say more using less detail, minimizing the information present, and this is something that is common place within our culture. The video below talks of how we use symbols to convey a high level of information.

Icons & Signs - The Art of Rich Pictures - The Open University

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

Within signage we tell a large amount of information within a basic symbol. As I write these words, I know that written language is a series of visual symbols that depict certain sounds. Art speaks, imagery speaks, and yet when the information becomes succinct we cease to call it art. Although it is only through the artists understanding of a variety of symbols that they can create a language in which to speak. Draper's image speaks of romance and we empathize with the women in the image, because of how he has chosen to depict her. He is conveying information of an emotion so he does not reference symbols that are too blatant, because it would lead us to intellectualize what we are viewing, which is sometimes incompatible with the feeling of romance and Draper wants to conjure this emotion. Art allows for layers within your expression, pushing the artist to convey multiple types of information, while also evoking feeling. The artist can learn from the symbols and signs, which exist within fine art and comic books. They should view all symbols and icons they see through their daily lives, such as the symbols within road signs. Through this they can learn to deliver highly complex information within a single image.