This beautiful image is from the movie Metropolis by Fritz Lang, it shows Atlas the giant carrying the weight of the entire city on his shoulders. In this image Atlas represents the combined might and labour of the working class. Interestingly the same theme in imagery is often used for the famous “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, where it represents the exact opposite message: the few wealthy people carrying the rest of society… as in the image bellow. Of course the original Greek myth and statuary have a very different meaning again!
I want to talk about how the meanings of images can be changed depending on their context and how they're used.
Another very different but now currently famous example of this is “Fearless Girl”. The statue of the fearless girl represents female empowerment, empowerment for young girls in the modern world, standing up to power and adversity. It's a powerful image. It's also a little trite and obvious, but this helps it communicate its meaning all the better and more widely.
The trouble is though that to get that meaning it depends on an older artwork that it was placed in front of: The bull. As it is now, she is standing up in fearless defiance to the bull. The bull artwork was erected sometime in the 1970s, it's meaning was to express boundless freedom, a positive expression of American optimism. But with the placement of the second statue this has been completely inverted: the bull now represents negativity, power, abuse, and danger, utterly destroying its intended meaning.
Something we are all very familiar with is parody.
For this example I've chosen the “We Can Do It” poster. This was originally made as a motivational image for factory workers at Westinghouse. It was displayed for a few months in the 1940s then taken down and forgotten. In the 1960s it was rediscovered and gained a new meaning as a women's rights poster. The nameless woman on the poster is now called “Rosie”, conflating her with another unrelated but far more famous character from the 1940s, Rosie the Riveter, notably depicted by Norman Rockwell. Since the 1960s there have been many re-interpretations and parodies of this image, making fun of it, finding new ways to support women's rights and feminism, leveraging its popularity to sell things, or simply just to get a laugh and for the artist to have fun.
I've even done my own version.
In mine I wanted to have fun with reproducing the famous We Can Do It woman and contrast her against an image of the famous Rosie the Riveter, also to show that they're different but equally distinct and interesting characters.
The meanings of imagery are not static or inherent. They're highly contextual and can easily be changed. They depend not only on what they look like, but on history, the culture they come from, the intentions of the artist, and even the background and culture of the viewers. This can be a fun and interesting thing for an artist to play with, even when doing comics!
ozoneocean at 12:00AM, April 15, 2017
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