Iconic, indexical and symbolic art

I had a really interesting and quite unexpected experience in my philosophy study group this term. We spent our 2 hours out in the park, divided in small groups then we took different directions in search for inspiration to do a drawing through the media of a new technique for me: the indexical drawing. One group attached colored pens to the branches of a tree and let them blow in the wind shaping random forms on a piece of paper laid right underneath them. Another group squeezed a bottle and spread the water in the air in a cyclic fashion so it created different shapes on the tarmac, depending on where the wind blew. Walking through the trees I just instinctively stopped in front of one ending up drawing its spirit while the tree was lying on the ground next to its stump. The tree is an iconical representation with a symbolic meaning of the lost things and how more beautiful and meaningful we perceive them after they are gone.

We’ve learned three important terminologies that day: iconic, indexical and symbolic.

We can either look at an imagine or a drawing and stop at the mare aesthetics of it, the classic ‘it’s really beautiful’, ‘i’s crap’ or we can go beyond and discover that the artist had actually a lot to say.

Icon means image. By iconical art we mean the representation of reality by maintaining its true forms like for example a tree, a person, a pencil etc. We can easily identify it in a piece of art like a painting or a drawing:

Indexical art is an image, drawing or even installation that is achieved through a process of one thing having an effect on another without the ending result being controlled by human intervention. Here are some examples of ink and fire on glass, ink in water etc. All this are results of a random action-consequence process:

Symbolism is an arbitrary or conventional, but commonly accepted representation of a situation, emotion or action. For example there’s nothing in the play button that suggests ‘play’ but we’ve learned to associate this triangle as a play button:

Here is a nice video that explains the differences between the three forms.

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