Showing posts with label symbolic arrows. Show all posts
Showing posts with label symbolic arrows. Show all posts

Sunday, August 21, 2011

More arrows

My recent blog post entitled My paper on symbolic arrows [display] invited readers to download a paper in which I outlined my motivations as a collector of symbolic arrows.

New specimens come to light constantly. I found this fellow on the wall of my living room, in a corner of the document described in my recent blog post entitled Painted-canvas scroll from Mumbai [display]:

[Click to enlarge]

I call him DecaMan, and I reckon that he would be a great subject for comic books (if they still exist) and animation movies. To use his bow and arrow in a masterly fashion, DecaMan takes advantage of 10 autonomous heads and 10 pairs of arms and hands. Besides, DecaMan seems to be transported by a giant fishtailed dachshund. And there's a blue dog's head emerging from the top of DecaMan's normal set of human heads. A powerful well-armed fellow, indeed. I'm amused by the astounded expression of the little guy with a bow and arrow on the right-hand edge of the image. He seems to be saying, in terror: "What the fuck is that?"

And here's a simple but expert use of a pair of symbolic arrows on the cover of a book coauthored by the same man, Andy Thomson, whom I mentioned in my recent blog post entitled Eye of God [display].

Notice the arrow-heads formed beneath the outstretched arms of the lovely girl, whose slender booted legs evoke a pair of arrow shafts. [William: Stop!] I congratulate the graphic artist who produced this beautifully-eloquent sexy cover. I haven't read the book itself, but it's described as an ideal gift from concerned parents to a bipolar teenager.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My paper on symbolic arrows

I've finished a short article on the arrow symbol—comprising a copy of a personal letter from Sir Ernst Gombrich—which is now stored in the commentary section of the Gombrich Archive at the University of Birmingham [access]. I was happy to collaborate on this task with Richard Woodfield [Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Art History at the University of Birmingham], who built the Gombrich website.

Alternatively, you can click the image to download directly a PDF version of my paper from a personal webspace.

I never actually got around to completing my research in this fascinating domain, which would have involved months of investigations. As I suggest in my paper, things have changed greatly today because of the existence of the Internet, and I would be thrilled if a young researcher (maybe in the field of graphic design) were to take up the challenge of presenting a global story of symbolic arrows.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In those days, even the Nasa wrote letters

I continue to talk about my past interest in symbolic arrows… which I've already evoked in three blog posts: in May, June and yesterday. The reason why I'm somewhat obsessed by this subject is that I've been working on a summary designed to clarify my brief exchange of letters about arrows with Ernst Gombrich, in 1976. This summary is almost completed, and I'll be announcing its existence shortly, in the form of a downloadable PDF file. Meanwhile, let me evoke briefly one of the most notorious symbolic arrows of all time: the curved trajectory that was engraved in the plaque aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes.

As you can see (at the bottom of the image), a curved line with an arrow-head at its right-hand extremity is intended to indicate the trajectory of the space vessel from its departure point, the planet Earth, to the vicinity of the orbit of Saturn. The question that springs into the mind of a skeptical earthbound observer is: Would extraterrestrial observers necessarily grasp the sense of this symbolic arrow? I sent a letter concerning my doubts to Nasa:

[Click to enlarge]

And I got a prompt and informative reply (curiously undated) from Charles Redmond, their public affairs officer in Washington.

[Click to enlarge]

Regardless of the objective content of our exchanges, I remain nostalgic today concerning that epoch, just a few decades ago (but before the Internet), when a simple individual such as myself could communicate directly with a fabulous organization such as the Nasa. At that time, needless to say, there were numerous indicators towards the future.

I often wonder retrospectively which (if any) of these paths towards the future I followed… leading to my solitary installation here at Gamone.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back in the days when people wrote letters

In my May article entitled Voices from Vienna [display], I evoked my exchange of letters with the great Viennese art historian Ernst Gombrich. Then, in my June article entitled Symbolic arrows [display], I started to evoke the motivations behind my preoccupations with symbolic arrows.

Three decades ago, when I was eagerly pursuing this arrow subject, I tried to analyze every specimen I encountered. For Americans, the most famous bundle of symbolic arrows (exactly 13) is clenched in the left talon of a bald eagle, on the Great Seal.

That bundle of arrows symbolizes US military strength, whereas the olive branch in the eagle's right talon symbolizes cherished peace. I was intrigued by another illustrious blazon based upon a bundle of arrows.

These are the arms of the Rothschild family: the world's greatest and wealthiest dynasty of international bankers. Well, back in those days before personal computers and the Internet, I was curious to learn why the Rothschilds might have incorporated arrows in their coat of arms. So, I simply sent off a letter to the family in Paris.

I received a prompt and friendly reply from the chief himself: Baron Guy de Rothschild. At that time, he was the 72-year-old patriarch of a distinguished French family and the discouraged head of a great bank that had been nationalized by the socialist government of François Mitterrand. I've often wondered, since then, why Guy de Rothschild took time off from his tribulations to explain to a naive Australian why there were arrows in the family's coat of arms. My personal explanation might sound simplistic and corny, but I'll give it all the same. Guy de Rothschild sent me that personal letter [see below, click to enlarge] because... he was a gentleman.

This is a photo of the old man not long before his death, four years ago:

In his letter, he evoked the idea that the arrows represented the five sons of the patriarch Mayer Amschel Rothschild [1744-1812].

Today, this association between the bundle of five arrows and the sons is indicated explicitly in various web articles about Rothschild history. The prestigious US magazine Forbes considered Mayer Amschel Rothschild —who grew up in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt—a "founding father of international finance", and ranked him 7th in their list of "the twenty most influential businessmen of all time". The Rothschild patriarch probably discovered his metaphorical sense of arrows, evoking down-to-earth advantages of sons, in Psalm 127:
Sons are a gift from the Lord
and children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one's youth.
Happy is he
who has his quiver full of them;
someone like that will not have to back down
when confronted by an enemy in court.

The following chart mentions individuals in the English and French branches of the family:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

The 48-year-old man whose name appears in the lower right-hand corner, Benjamin de Rothschild, is said to be the richest of the living Rothschilds.

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...

Arrow humor

Back in Paris, I used to collect all kinds of documents in which arrows were used—in one way or another—as metaphorical symbols. At a comical level, this was one of my favorites:

The dispirited fellow is trying to pen a short message (to be published in a newspaper, no doubt, because this was well before the birth of the Internet) that might enable him to find a female. We can read the first three versions, all of which have been crossed out and discarded. I've expanded the abbreviations and translated them into English:

Man, 40 years old, dynamic, intelligent, cultivated, sense of humor, is seeking a young woman, maximum age 28, for a private relationship.

Male, new style, is looking for a moderate feminist, maximum age 28, for contacts of a different kind, prospective happiness.

Creative guy, tender and intense, wishes to encounter a young woman of 28 for excursions into space-time.

The final version is definitely less inspired, more down to earth:

Fellow, depressive, inwardly phallocratic, outwardly open-minded, is looking for anything at all, maximum age 28, so he can listen to her moaning.

As you can see, Cupid is somewhat dubitative about the tone of the looking-for-love message, and it's not at all obvious that he's about to fire an arrow at a lucky 28-year-old female.

The cartoonist Claire Brétecher is celebrated in the French-speaking world for her depictions of frustrated adolescents (female, above all) trying to come to terms with modern society, parents, peer companions, sexuality, etc. In the case of the present cartoon, Brétecher worked for the Parker pen company, whose elegantly-designed writing implements have always been associated with the arrow symbol. Notice, for example, that the arrow held by Cupid is identical to the model found in the Parker logo. Notice too (a subtle detail) that the fellow has several pens on his table, enabling him to use differing nib widths and handwriting styles for his trial-and-error attempts at lecherous self-marketing.

The French company was courageous in calling upon Brétecher to create this excellent cartoon for their publicity. Today, I'm not sure that many big companies would be prepared to link their marketing communications to this kind of second-degree humor evoking primitive machism.