Welcome to this month’s Pattern Play where we are exploring symbols and symbology. For centuries, symbols have been used to communicate and create visual identity. The earliest symbols have been found carved or painted on stone, trees, skins and other natural materials. Gradually, these visuals developed into written languages to help early civilizations communicate, record information, and even speak to Gods. Depending on the cultural origin, symbols have, and continue to represent, a variety of things including concepts, sounds, places and words. Generally composed of gestural lines, marks, swirls, shapes and characters, they are often pictorial in nature and sometimes arranged in a pattern or grid.
The earliest symbols can be traced back to the written languages of ancient Chinese, Mayan, Native American and African civilizations. Egypt developed one of the most complex and visually impressive writing systems, called hieroglyphics, in approximately 3200 B.C.. Hieroglyphics are two-dimensional motifs and lines, usually inscribed on stones in large scale monuments. Hieroglyphics were also placed on objects and furniture for supernatural protection, to restore balance and order and were generally religious in nature.
In addition to means of communication, symbols have also been created to help us identify objects, places, people or concepts. We can see this in crests, religion, alchemy, numbers, mythology, and astrology. Early civilizations seeking a connection between Earth and the heavens developed astronomical symbols of the constellations and astrological symbols of the zodiac as they stand today (as seen above in this Sri Lankan illustration of the zodiac). We can also find symbolism in common icons like the heart which represents love and the horseshoe for good luck.
Today, modern symbols like emojis, traffic signs, and logos help us to communicate emotion, give direction, and establish identity. Some symbols have grown to take on a life of their own, becoming badges of honor to their own brand subculture such as the classic Louis Vuitton pattern, the poignant artwork of Keith Haring, the ubiquitous Apple logo, or even on Justina’s new Cosmic Desert Wallpaper.
Tune in next week when I take the general concept of symbols and interpret it into a fun pattern!