Icons and Culture


I want to enter a show that’s called Icons and Imagery because I think it’s a great idea for a theme. But the juror is German and the exhibition will be in England. So this gave me pause — the humor and play on words and images that is a big part of my art, would it translate?

One of my quilts, Robbery at the Lingerie Boutique just returned from from a touring exhibition that visited France, Great Britain, Denmark, Austria, and Australia. Weird trivia — a woman from my hometown, called to say she saw it Austria. How small the world is! But at the same time, how big! And I wonder how my quilt was received by the locals?

Two books I’ve read this summer Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking and A Whole New Mind both site the research of psychologist Paul Ekman that indicates facial expressions are interpreted the same around the world. But I know this isn’t true of hand gestures, and what about graphic symbols? Think how the swastika has changed.

The prospectus for the show gives this definition: An icon (from Greek eikon, “image”) is a graphic, image, or picture of some object or actions which elicits symbolic meaning beyond the object represented. It stands for an object by representing some well-known significance or certain qualities. An icon represents something of greater significance than the literal or figurative image. So can any icon be truly universal?

What do you think? And if you’re an artist reading this, do you think your work reaches across cultural boundaries?

9 thoughts on “Icons and Culture”

  1. Hi Jill, I designed my website and then found someone who could write the code for a blog to match it. I’m using WordPress which allows you more options for different themes that you can buy, but honestly, to implement them — it was easier to do in Blogger.

  2. Sorry to bother you again Pam but l have fell in love with your work and website as l love color. Have been think of changing my blog but just wanted to ask did you do the design on your blog or can you download them or buy them.
    I am useless with anything like this and now l am struggling with a new vista computer l don’t think its capable of doing it till the sevice patch one comes out to fix all the bugs

  3. very interesting point. i can see the dilemma here. So many icons are culturally specific. Except as mentioned hollwood icons may transcend this given the media proliferation of the entertainment industry. Maybe religious icons would be cross cultural to some extent as well.

    I like to work in what I think is a multicultural way, referencing many different traditions. But that is my perspective from the inside looking out. I am not sure how it comes across from the perspective of another culture looking in.

    Years ago when i was in art school, i studied graphic design in japan one summer with a group of american students. We were so in awe of the japanese sensibility of design and asked all of our Japanese advertising/design guest speakers about where they found their inspiration and influences. We were shocked to find all them said the US.

  4. Hi Kim, I must say, the miscommunications you describe scared me! I didn’t realize how much even in English and even in this country, we have different languages. But then I found your last comment encouraging and think I will go on with my plan as I originally designed it.

  5. I have to say from living in England and Denmark, you are right, word associations and word play are different from culture from culture…a word joke about “rubbers” isn’t funny in the UK since it means eraser not condom. My friend Colleen and I love to play “how do you say this in your English?” Of course being a Brit, she says we don’t even speak “English” VBG
    She turned me on to Cockney rhyming….
    A person may say “She’s on ‘needle and pin” which really means “She’s on gin” (gin rhymes with pin) There are a whole slew of standards For example “Apples and Pears” means “stairs http://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk/

    From http://www.aldertons.com/
    >>>>>What is Cockney Rhyming Slang?
    ‘Allo me old china – wot say we pop round the Jack. I’ll stand you a pig and you can rabbit on about your teapots. We can ‘ave some loop and tommy and be off before the dickory hits twelve.

    or, to translate

    Hello my old mate (china plate) – what do you say we pop around to the bar (Jack Tar). I’ll buy you a beer (pig’s ear) and you can talk (rabbit and pork) about your kids (teapot lids). We can have some soup (loop de loop) and supper (Tommy Tucker) and be gone before the clock (hickory dickory dock) strikes twelve. >>>>>

    Notice that sometimes the rhyming word is left out to make it even harder “JacK Tar” which means “bar” may only be represented by a single word “Jack”
    When I first moved here to Texas (or Tejas) I didn’t know what “That dog don’t hunt” meant or why I should “stay on the porch”
    In England I thought the tutor ( teacher) was mad because we were “thin on the ground” which I translated to stupid but which really means a lot of absenteeism.
    So I think my quilts may not paly with a German juror unless he is highly fluent in English. But who knows? I do know the organizers from the UK are wanting really cutting edge stuff and will likely instruct the juror to choose like wise

    Thank you!
    Kim Ritter
    Visit my website
    My Blog
    Museum Exhibitions of Art Quilts curated by Kim Ritter and Judy Dales

  6. Thanks Allison, I’m glad to hear someone else has been worried about this theme. As Elizabeth said on the SAQA list, maybe some our most recognizable icons today are people.

  7. Pam, I have been thinking about this one, too, and wondering whether one can’t assign icon status to some graphic or image at a personal level…I think it is possible – the artists statement I detest so much would probalby need to come to my aid here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *