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Appropriating imagery

ozoneocean at 12:00AM, April 15, 2017

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 This was originally made as a motivational image for factory workers at Westinghouse.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!



Tantz_Aerine at 2:15PM, April 17, 2017

Great post! COntext is everything.

ozoneocean at 12:06PM, April 16, 2017

Thanks guys! Glad you liked the post :D

PyThomas at 8:58AM, April 16, 2017

I think we found Jenny Everywhere's mom... :)

KimLuster at 5:21AM, April 16, 2017

Great stuff! Hits the points so well. For each of my chapter headers of the Godstrain (save the first one - and someday I'll add one for that one...) feature an appropriation/parody of some famous artwork (incl. a Rosie the Riveter). It's just plain fun to do as well...!!

Banes at 2:38PM, April 15, 2017

Holy smokes, this is fascinating stuff! Brilliant!

bravo1102 at 11:50AM, April 15, 2017

That last image in the "We can do it" montage is actually from "Wings for victory" a separate WWII bond campaign in 1943. It's similar to the "You buy'em, we fly'em" poster which again is not "We can do it". "We can do it" was for war workers, "Wings for Victory" was to get people to buy bonds and was all over. But it's a great message for twisting all over. The Air Force used a variant of the poster into the 1960s. It's so much fun playing with icons and symbolism. One of great things about a visual medium.

PaulEberhardt at 9:45AM, April 15, 2017

Especially when doing comics, I should say! A visual medium, comics are a natural place to do just this. The tricky part of it is incorporating this well-known imagery in a way that it fits in there seamlessly. The Simpsons provide some great examples, as does Asterix, e.g. . And so does Pinky TA as I just discovered. I guess it's down to having a clearly defined style of your own that is however flexible enough at the same time. Kudos for this great post!

ozoneocean at 3:38AM, April 15, 2017

With the fearless girl you sort of think of her in a Miyazaki sense- like if the bull charged for her she'd tame it, or jump on its back or hold it back with magic or something. That's my feeling anyway.

MOrgan at 3:17AM, April 15, 2017

Of course, someone standing front of a rampaging bull might be fearless, but they are also very, very stupid, since they will likely be hurt or killed.

Gunwallace at 3:07AM, April 15, 2017

interesting post

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