Berger and McCloud: Iconography

One similarity I found between John Berger’s The Ways of Seeing and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics was the theories about icon. Scott McCloud talks about how everything portrayed through the medium of comics is an ‘icon’ of something else, a simplified version of a (possibly) real-life object. He uses the example of Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images”, which portrays a picture of a pipe with the caption “this is not a pipe”. Because it is not; it is simply a drawing of a pipe. All the imagery and words we perceive are all ‘icons’ of something else: a smiley face is a simplified icon of a real smiling face, the American flag is an icon of the country of United States, and so forth. Words are icons too, visually they are just ink on paper, but thematically each word holds meaning, referencing to another idea. John Berger talks of icons similarly. He uses the example of religious symbols that people visit. A cross in a church that people come to see, to pray in front of. The cross is not the actual God, but people still come to see it and pray in front of it as it’ is the icon of God. Paintings are similar. They depict an image that is not the actual thing, but people still attach meaning to it.

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