11 November 2005

Viewing Art: Representation

This post is an extension of some ideas I discussed in relation to Russian Icons on Sunday. The purpose of that post was to show that some kinds of depiction, however detached from the subject matter, purpose of the image, or outside world they may be, never change.

I'm guessing that most of the people who read this are as outside the Russian Icon thing as I am. With that in mind, I went to Microsoft Paint and made the following image:

I do hope that you all can relate to this image. We see the open sea on a clear sunny day. Below the rippling surface of the water we see two fish merrily going their separate ways.
For you reading this post, the representational conventions in my drawing ought to come right out of the lexicon of familiar images. But why? How is it that the scalloped blue line has come to represent water? I have never, ever seen water do that. Furthermore, I had not seen blue water until I was an adult. But I had been drawing blue scalloped water from the beginning. Why then, in the absence of actual water of that color and texture do I see the blue scalloped line and I think "water"? It is a very clever symbol perhaps, but not a depiction. The same is true of the Sun. I've also never seen little sunbeams darting out from the sun's edges, and I've never seen the sun smile. But all the same, when we look at these two representations we don't think "how strange". We think "sun" and "water".

Conventional representation happens a lot in cartoons, which is also a good place to find conventional music. If I had to think of a musical piece as stuck representation-wise as the blue scalloped line, I'd list Edvart Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites. A pastoral morning in a cartoon isn't complete without his "Morning Mood". If you aren't sure you know which piece I'm talking about, Amazon will let you listen. (you have to scroll down)

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