Thursday, December 4, 2008

Signs Signs, Everywhere Signs

I have entered the last month of my sabbatical, and am preparing a return to the Colorado Plateau where I spent the month of August, to wonderful effect.

I am finalizing a book outline and preparing to begin writing. One of the essays I'm planning will address the graphic sensibility, which I think exists in contrast to the painterly sensibility. The former concerns itself with declaration and persistence; the latter, with immersion and immanence. More on that in coming months. But my time in Utah included exploration of Fremont culture petroglyphs and Archaic pictographs. (A petroglyph is pecked into the stone; a pictograph is painted onto it.) I am looking forward to more of the same--tramping around in remote districts, looking for horned critter shapes and headdressed cartoony humanoids.

Days before I left at the end of August I discovered a set of petroglyphs no more than 150 yards from where I was staying, including the fellow known as "Moab Man." Above.

Oddly, Moab Man lives on a rock less than a quarter mile from this horserider road sign. Just as the bison at Lascaux are faithfully formed while the people are diagrammatic stick-units, our drafted horse carries a symbolic man. Funny, when you really look at it. Is the negative space between the man's arm and hand a break in the symbolic form, or a longsleeved shirtcuff? Or both? For that matter, is the guy a priest, or should Ichabod Crane be freaking out behind the wheel?


Bob Flynn said...

Whoa, that IS an odd sign. I wonder if they broke the arm just to separate the two forms. The convention with "symbolic man" is the break the head from the body, but here the slice is so small that it doesn't read that way.

It's interesting that we represent and realistically proportioned horse silhouette, but that a shape-based abstraction of the human form is more prevalently used in signage. Especially when cartoonists have developed a shape-driven language for nearly every animal.

ArtSparker said...

Or the break in his sleeve symbolizes his lack of connection to the natural world...or lack of control of the direction in which he is moving.

I am very taken with the difference between graphic and painterly sensibility you propose.

DB Dowd said...

Bob, yes, an odd sign indeed. I think these things are amazingly unreflective, and it suggests a poverty of vision that we fail to address these issues in pretty fundamental educational contexts. We are headed for a post-reading culture, so we had better get good at reading pictures!

ArtSparker: thanks so much for the visit and the comments! I visited your blog--you are an energetic, curious soul. I loved your recent Poe illustration, especially...

I am eager to get the graphic and painterly concepts into print. Working on it...glad to hear you find them persuasive in this very preliminary form.