Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's Your Symbol?

I wish Maggie Macnab's book Decoding Design had been around back when I was in art school. I'm pretty sure I learned something about the vesica pisces in one of my classes, but certainly not the name or anything more elucidating than a factoid regarding its common use in religious iconography. I suspect if her book had been available back then, I would have not only learned a bunch more about symbols and their use in visual communication, but I may have even retained it. The book discusses symbols in a completely engaging way--a way that prompted me to think more about the use of shapes and symbols in my own work.
Formed at the intersection of two equally sized circles, the vesica pisces and its story caught my attention. I realized I had a real affinity for the shape--probably not surprising given my love of all things circle-y. (Apparently, it's a more popular shape than I realized--its got its own Facebook page.) I think I'm at that point on the career continuum where the space is opening up for me to think more abstractly about the work and what's being made. I have enough skill and knowledge now to ask more interesting questions and see things through different filters and lenses. Using the vesica pisces is something I could have stumbled upon a couple of years ago, but it seems more interesting to actually choose it--and choose it for specific artistic as well as practical reasons. Being more purposeful and aware of some of the symbology conveyed, either consciously or not, makes the individual pieces, and my work, more intriguing.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that working with this shape instills these pieces with some mysterious power, or that I now possess some ancient Chinese secret. Seriously, I still make Lone Star beer bottle cap earrings. For whatever reason, though, there does seem to be something particularly engaging about these necklaces for people. I took several into Creatures a month ago and they all got snapped up pretty quickly, as did a subsequent batch. Is it the mystical, historical symbol? The limited supply of vintage steel rings* that hold the sections together? Is Mercury in retrograde? Who knows, but for now my stars have aligned. A creatively interesting design I'm making is also selling. Crazy.
I want to encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Macnab's book. I think it's a bit unfortunate that the book is marketed mostly to design professionals. We're pretty much all visual communicators at this point. Some of us create visual messages, but every one of us receives them. Being more aware of the constituent parts helps us all to understand, demystify and possibly even to disarm. It's readable, well illustrated, thought provoking and one of the few reference books I actually refer to regularly.

*I'm on the lookout for more rings like these. I found these at an estate sale of a hoarder seamstress a while back.  They are definitely vintage, about 1.25" in diameter, steel rings that have been soldered closed. The pieces I have are painted in this dull aqua and some are light gray. If you have any idea what they may have been used for or where I might find something similar, let me know. I'm cruising through my stash pretty quickly!

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