I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.
Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.
So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.
The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.
St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.
Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?
What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?