Thursday, June 9, 2011

Symbolic arrows

I encountered the following complicated logo back in 1975, and it immediately intrigued me because of the information it seemed to convey concerning both the entity designated by the logo and the apparent intentions of the people who had designed the logo.

It was the logo of a small group of people in France who were active in various fields of music: the ACIC (Association pour la collaboration des interprètes et des compositeurs). Two categories of musicians are mentioned explicitly in the name of this association: those who interpret (perform) music, and those who compose it. The essential role of the ACIC was to organize concerts of music composed and performed by members of the association.

The aspect of the logo that struck me was the abundance of arrow forms. Clearly, the five that point to the right represent a musical staff, and it is normal that the arrows point in the same temporal direction as the notes of music when they are read and performed. In fact, it is so normal that the five lines correspond to a musical movement towards the right that one wonders why the logo designers thought it worthwhile to insert the somewhat redundant arrow heads.

The giant arrow pointing to the left, with its reinforced two-part head, is more unexpected, in that it does not appear to coincide with any obvious reality of a purely musical nature. Before trying to imagine the possible sense of this symbolism, let us move to the large letter A, which incorporates a fragment of the big arrow as its horizontal bar. The pair of pillars making up this A seem to be planted beneath the surface of the ground, represented by the big arrow, as if they were the massive foundations of a protective structure. The upper part of the A is yet another arrow head, pointing towards the heavens, like the spire of a cathedral. Clearly, it is the vast roof of a place of shelter and safety. There is no doubt whatsoever that the major element in the ACIC is this big sturdy A, for association. Viewed in this sense, the backwards-pointing arrow is probably a defense mechanism, protecting the sanctuary and its occupants from any kind of stealthy rearguard attack.

My interpretation of the sense of the big arrow might throw light upon the reasons why there are arrow heads on the five lines of the staff. They could well be thought of as offensive arrows, designed to remove obstacles from the path ahead. In other words, the composers and performers are using their musical creations as weapons, enabling them to advance without hindrances along their planned path of artistic conquest. Meanwhile, the association shelters them from the elements and protects them from any unexpected threats that might spring into existence behind their backs.

Does the symbolism of the logo suggest that composers and performers have equal status, as it were, within the association? Not really. On the contrary, the performer is represented by a relatively small letter I, firmly planted in the ground as if he were an immobile plant, whereas he is totally engulfed by the great round form of the letter C, designating the composer. An observer has the impression that the ACIC is primarily an association of composers, and that performers are invited to participate in a minor secondary role.

My analysis of this logo left me with the conviction that people do not design graphic symbols “innocently”. There is always some kind of underlying method, maybe subconscious, in their inventions. Above all, I was amused by the eagerness with which the designers of a logo exploit arrow symbols. Later, when I started looking around at other logos, I was astonished to discover that we are surrounded perpetually by all kinds of arrows. In the arena of metaphorical symbols, I have the impression that the arrow is an Olympic champion, which has come down to us from various mythical archers of Antiquity... not to mention our very real ancestors who once used pointed darts to capture mammoths and bisons. Humanity has always lived in a world of arrows, and we still do. The only difference is that, these days, the arrows that abound in our societies are nearly all purely symbolic. But that is another story...

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