Welcome! A few years ago, I discovered an application that artists employ in their works to bring cultural awareness to their audiences. Having discerned this semiotic theory that applies to literature, music, art, film, and the media, I have devoted the blog, "Theory of Iconic Realism" to explore this theory. The link to the publisher of my book is below. If you or your university would like a copy of this book for your library or if you would like to review it for a scholarly journal, please contact the Edwin Mellen Press at the link listed below.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
I have demonstrated or will demonstrate the application of this theory at the following locations: April, 2016 @ University of Notre Dame: A 'Daughter of Attila' Speaks: The Semiotic Theory of Iconic Realism in the Cultural Identity of Irish Celts and Magyars
November, 2016 @ Massachusetts Maritime Academy:
"A Terrible Beauty is Born"...The Semiotic Theory of Iconic Realism and William Butler Yeats' poem, Easter 1916
Dates pending: I will present the theory of iconic realism at universities and art institutes which have purchased my book.
As we near this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for the wonderful people who have visited this site. I wish for you great health and happiness. I am thankful for the life that I have right now: my family, friends, colleagues, and students, who have influenced me in ways that they probably do not even know. Filled with love and appreciation, I sincerely hope that God will reign Blessings on each person whose life has touched me in a positive manner. With much gratitude, I wish you all a Blessed Thanksgiving! ~ Dr. Jeanne Iris
I took this photo in Dublin, Ireland a few years ago.
Content of material represented through literature,
art and music contains the linguistic configurations associated with language
in addition to visual and auditory stimuli. In literature, content consists of
language, represented by words on a page that convey meaning to the audience.
Artistic content varies from materials, such as paint, rock, metal, fabric, or
other physical substance, with the subject matter originating in the human
experience. Musical compositions include content that incorporates any form of
resonance to which the auditory mechanism responds.
For instance, thematic representation of creative
expression incorporates the history, language and culture of the artist
in relation to individual purpose of expression with an audience. A musical
composition contains a specific theme. This theme can then repeat every time a musician performs the piece.
However, the theme will elicit variations based on instrumentation, acoustics,
and musicians actively attempting to recreate the original sound. A new aurally
thematic expression results from this interpretation. Likewise, a work of art
will receive the eyes of multiple viewers. Each person adapts his/her life
experience to the interpretation of the rendered artistic theme, thus altering
the original thematic construct of the artist. Hence, a theme is in a constant
state of evolution, no matter which art form has been presented. (Lakatos
In the photo, you will see the baseball field, which was actually constructed in an Iowa cornfield for the film, Field of Dreams.
"An example of iconic realism in a film would be the baseball field within the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, based on the novel written by W. P. Kinsella and the screenplay written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Throughout the film, the audience knows that the mysterious baseball diamond, carved out of an Iowan cornfield by farmer Ray Kinsella, connects with the sport of baseball. Two iconic factors are present, the sport, which many view as America’s heart and the location, which is the heartland of America" (Lakatos 57).
"The realism is the actual grass, the parameters of the field, which consist of the edge of a cornfield and the players, themselves, which are the Chicago Black Socks, a team which had gone through a series of legalities during its prime season. The baseball players are ghosts from this infamous team, who simply wish to play out eternity on a ball field. As the plot unfolds, Ray’s true reason to construct the field revolves around ‘having a catch’ with his father. Therefore, the iconic feature of an authentic baseball field, placed in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa, a very unlikely place for a baseball field, elicits the cultural awareness from the main character. Ray’s illusions of his father were detached from a realistic understanding of his father’s passion, for he very much like Ray, himself, was a hardworking young man, who loved baseball" (Lakatos 57).
"Therefore, Robinson’s use of iconic realism in the Field of Dreams illustrates a personal mission of opening the consciousness of America to the conflict within the heart of its people and traditions. The use of illusion and human consciousness illuminate the struggle with personal motivation that produces results as stated repeatedly throughout the film, “If you build it, he will come.” This feature of iconic realism in the Field of Dreams adapts well to contemporary statements of community in iconic characterizations and the realistic dynamics of connection and detachment" (Lakatos 57).
Lakatos, Jeanne. The Theory of Iconic Realism: Understanding the Arts through a Cultural Context. Lewisburg, New York: Edwin Mellen Publishers, 2009.
painting by William Rock, Chinese calligraphy by Huang Xiang
eclipse of May 29,1919 confirmed Einstein’s theory that the light could be bend
by the gravitational force of the sun. An English expedition in the area of the
eclipse have actually measured the deflexion of starlight from the sun. The
data of the expedition was presented to a special joint meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of London on November 6, 1919."
(Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General, Tesla Memorial Society of New York)
scientific event held at the conclusion of WWI illustrates iconic realism in the media. Albert Einstein, an icon of the scientific community, received
confirmation of his theory of relativity through data collected by an English expedition. The
manner which this event illustrates the theory of iconic realism is the
juxtaposition of a representative of Germany and England, countries at war, in a scientific
conference, which led to a united elevation of human consciousness.
twenty years later, this same peace activist urges President Roosevelt to begin
research into the production of the atomic bomb as a means to bring a quick end
to Nazism and WWII. And we all know the rest of that narrative.
Vujovic, Dr. Ljubo. Albert Einstein (187901955). Tesla Memorial Society
of New York. http://www.teslasociety.com/einstein.htm
I took this photo in Coole Park, County Galway, Ireland
In his Second Treatise of Government, John Locke states, "People are born in a state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another." If one were to gaze upon the photograph I have posted above, a sense of this equality exists within the natural balance of the trees' trunks, for they vividly reflect the underground root system, the source of their immensely visual structures.
This illustrates the existence of iconic realism in the natural world in that it is unusual to see a tree's trunk and branches specifically revealing the source of its power. Usually, one would have to dig beneath the surface to see this, but as I walked beneath the branches of these enormous evergreens, I could almost feel the life force surging from the unseen root systems below my feet.
What does this reveal in a cultural sense? Those leaders that become the most powerful, whether in government, business, education or the arts, acknowledge the source of their power exists within the individuals who contribute to the root of their successful endeavors, originating from that which flourishes from below the surface.
Photo of The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, found from Google Images
However an audience incorporates and assimilates information gained from perceiving a work of art, each member of the audience will structure the information in order to create interpretation. The wide scope of interpretation evolves with the audience's perception of the art form, which characterizes the multiple associations within a singular work of art.
For example, the interpretation of Mona Lisa's eyes from each subsequent century since her debut has rested on her ambivalent countenance. Although content remains fixed, the historicity of the audience determines the variety of interpretations of any work of art. (Lakatos 19)
"A musical composition contains a specific theme. This theme can then repeat every time a musician performs the piece. However, the theme will elicit variations based on instrumentation, acoustics, and musicians actively attempting to recreate the original sound. A new aural thematic expression results from this interpretation. Likewise, a work of art will receive the eyes of multiple viewers. Each person adapts his/her life experience to the interpretation of the rendered artistic theme, thus altering the original thematic construct of the artist. Hence, a theme is in a constant state of evolution, no matter which art form has been presented" (Lakatos 20).
The poignant lyrics in the song, "Strange Fruit," sung by Billie Holiday, words of my poem, "Fallen Apple," and the painting, "Oblinski's Apples" all deal with a specific segment of the human population who has had to deal with human rights issues. Each work of art can be interpreted differently, but the messages are obvious. I'll let you decide those for yourself.
Ader Planetarium Astronomy Museum, Art Institute of Chicago
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1053/5097973137_718735c9c6.jpg When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to tim
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
In Walt Whitman's poem, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer, the speaker leaves an astronomy lecture to step outside the fixed parameters of the building. Subsequently, this individual learns first hand of the beauty when viewing the same firmament of which the lecturer speaks but viewed simply with the naked eye in silence. By leaving the lecture, the speaker, with scientific information gained from the the astronomer's lecture inside, now enjoys the silent beauty with appreciated knowledge, but more importantly, with appreciation of the significance of the stars’ natural condition.
This poem illustrates iconic realism in that the subject, constellations in a contrived setting, brings the audience and the speaker in the poem to a recognition that education of natural phenomena includes the experience of the real connection between humanity with nature.
I warmly thank the Art Institute of Chicago for purchasing a copy of my book, The Theory of Iconic Realism: Understanding the Arts through Cultural Context.
Photo of two swans, canoodling on East Lake, Danbury, CT
One of my favorite childhood tales is Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." In this tale, he introduces the concept of tolerance by the placement of the animal kingdom's icon of grace, the swan, in a home of ducklings, known for awkwardness. The young swan is completely out of place in this environment. Here, Andersen uses iconic realism to illustrate that even though one may experience cruelty and humiliation, when one looks inward, one can realize individual truth and therefore, discover possibilities associated with self actualization. (Click HERE to view Danny Kaye singing about this tale.)
I took this photo of a stone etching, commemorating Yeats at Coole Park, Ireland.
The following is an excerpt from my book:
In his poem, “Fragments,”
Yeats rejects the icon of Christian philosopher, John Locke, and insinuates
that mankind may not be “inherently good,” for “Locke sank into a swoon” (l.1)
In lines 2-4, he writes, “The Garden died;/God took the spinning-jenny/Out of
his side.” Since the spinning jenny enabled laborers
to produce many more skeins of yarn, this allowed for the presence of many
‘yarns.’ His play on words creates the yarn. God (Jesus), the male icon of
Christianity, has removed the tales of faith, the sins for which He was
crucified. The last stanza provides a reality of the truth, which emanates from
a non-Christian source, a medium, then, “Out of nothing it came,” from
the Book of Genesis, the beginning of time, and the
source of God. He follows this with the pagan version of truth, “Out of
the forest loam,” the most fertile, lowest part of
the forest floor, where nutrients for the forest thrive. Finally, truth comes
“Out of dark night where lay/The crowns of Nineveh.” Here, darkness reveals only ignorance, silence, no words of
wisdom, and the source of superficiality. Yeats juxtaposes the iconic with
realistic in this poem to question the dichotomy of human faith, and moves the
reader along his wave of resonating artistic flow, for the following poem in
this series is “Leda and the Swan,” his iconic poem that alludes to the rape of
Leda in order to illustrate polar opposites in human consciousness.
While Baton Rouge, Louisiana has been bearing the deluge of rain, 30 + inches in the past few days, there are other parts of the world that have been struggling with drought conditions. That seems to be the way with natural climate patterns. Climate change is not a modern phenomenon. On the contrary, our beautiful planet's climate has been changing for millions of years. Let's look at one current method of dealing with the changes that occur, particularly those changes associated with drought. An effective way for public service organizations to reach the public is through a multi-sensory approach. Such is the case with the Global Water Foundation. To bring awareness of water shortages throughout the continent of Africa, this organization has created a brief, poignant film using iconic realism as a way to elucidate for its audience this grave ecological issue. In this brief film, the iconic image of a whale leaping out of the desert sand focuses the audience's attention o the increasingly devastating diminution of potable water, not only in Africa, but worldwide.
"As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me.
I'll never be hungry again, nor any of my folks..."
Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gone with the Wind beautifully illustrates the semiotic theory of iconic realism. She places a gentile young woman, raised on a southern plantation, in the midst of the American Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression, as they say south of the Mason-Dixon Line). Through this juxtaposition, Mitchell makes her audience aware of the need for perseverance to maintain one's dignity, personally and culturally.
In the scene above, Scarlet emerges from Tara, fatigued and tattered like a wilted magnolia blossom, but she slowly elevates herself as the horizon brightens. Her spirit breathes life back into this flower as a nation learns to cultivate the quality of innovation.
This novel was published in 1936, during the midst of the Great Depression when millions of Americans needed the kind of determination that the character, Scarlet O'Hara, exhibited. In addition, the interaction between the various characters throughout this novel illustrates a need for cultural reform on many levels.
The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, commonly known as St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, could be an example of iconic realism in two ways:
St. Basil was a man of humble eloquence, a true scholar who lived in Cappadocia during the 4th century. This cathedral, now a museum, is located in an area of the world in which many communist leaders have disregarded the human right of freedom of expression, yet it bears the namesake of one who dedicated his life to these rights, and thus, illustrates iconic realism. This iconic cathedral, a major landmark of Moscow, brings an awareness of the cultural need for individual expression and freedom to pursue scholarly endeavors.
Moreover, this cathedral was constructed by supporters of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his military victories. A towering cathedral of delicate design with vibrant colors in fanciful appearance, constructed to honor a man of war, this dichotomy demonstrates the semiotic theory of iconic realism in that the juxtaposition causes generations to re-evaluate the negative repercussions associated with warring factions.
The iconic images of the human struggle with emotions juxtaposed with light brings the audience of this classic song by Journey in tune with the perpetual dilemma of humanity's search for meaning. Don't Stop Believing by Journey
Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world She took the midnight train goin' anywhere Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room A smell of wine and cheap perfume For a smile they can share the night It goes on and on and on and on
Chorus: Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard Their shadows searching in the night Streetlights people, living just to find emotion Hiding, somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill, Everybody wants a thrill Payin' anything to roll the dice, just one more time Some will win, some will lose Some were born to sing the blues Oh, the movie never ends It goes on and on and on and on
Don't stop believin' Hold on to the feelin' Streetlight people
(Oven Bird photo from Google Images) The Oven Bird
by Robert Frost
There is a singer everyone has heard, Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. He says that leaves are old and that for flowers Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. He says the early petal-fall is past When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers On sunny days a moment overcast; And comes that other fall we name the fall. He says the highway dust is over all. The bird would cease and be as other birds But that he knows in singing not to sing. The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Robert Frost's poetry portrays the enigma of humanity through his observations of nature. His poem, "The Oven Bird," is no exception. The high-pitched song of this bird reminds the busy human of the lessons learned through the simplicity of nature.
The iconic structure here is the oven bird, a woodland icon of summer, representing the natural progression of life. In the tenth line, Frost points out, "He says the highway dust is over all." This line, unusual in that it follows vivid, natural imagery, awakens the reader to the conflict between humanity's impact versus the seemingly insignificant bird, singing "not to sing.”
In this verse, Frost illustrates the necessity of a natural sequence, "Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten," and the devastation that can exist when this sequence diminishes. Frost uses this small bird as nature's 'teacher,' indicated in its sweet song.
August Rodin’s The Kiss illustrates an iconic human act of a loving embrace. However, the two individuals do not touch. The significance of this is the key to understanding the iconic realism in this work of art. These two lovers emulate a common, human activity, yet this embrace, sculpted to express lack of physical contact, creates certain dissonance. The message from this careful configuration could be that humanity longs to embrace life fully, as an act of love; however, certain parameters prevent this occurrence. Other possible interpretations may involve a sense of detachment. Regardless of the interpretation, this sculpture exemplifies iconic realism in that there is an iconic structure, placed in a realistic setting that does not conform to the accepting reality of intimacy. Through this juxtaposition, the artist illustrates cultural liberation, an innovation for the era in which it was sculpted.
Harriet Tubman, aka "Moses of the Underground Railroad"
S. Tubman: Born Araminta
Ross, c. March 1822, Dorchester County, Maryland, U.S.A. Died: March 10, 1913
in Auburn, New York, U.S.A.
the early nineteenth century, when slavery was prevalent in the southern United
States, a woman named Harriet Tubman had actually escaped to the north via the
“Underground Railroad.” She decided to do something to help the enslaved individuals find freedom in the northern states and even further north in Canada and earned the title of "Moses" of the Underground Railroad. Eventually, she worked as an
agent for the Union during the Civil War. (American Biography Channel)
Harriet Tubman illustrates the theory of iconic realism in that she was a former slave, physically weakened by the actions of a former slave owner, yet she rose above her horrific circumstances to become a woman on whom many relied to make their way to freedom. Not only that, but the actual government that established the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, ended up hiring her as an agent for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Here, we have an iconic figure, placing herself in an environment not usually associated with such a woman, placed in that precarious environment in order to bring about a cultural transformation. In this case, that would be freedom for the enslaved. The most current recognition of this amazing woman is that she has been chosen to represent the United States of America on the new 20 dollar bill.
Click on the link below to view a short biography of Mrs. Harriet Tubman
But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust, which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently, some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg peer across the ‘dumping ground’ of American spirit. This example of iconic realism portrays eyes as the ‘windows of the soul’ of a country steeping in corruption and superficiality. Fitzgerald places these eyes on an old billboard, gazing across a field of forgotten possessions, bringing into focus awareness of America’s consciousness to be ever vigilant of the forefathers’ intentions of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
The other day, I went for a walk down my street. It felt wonderful to be walking passed the farms again. The goats, sheep, llamas, cows, horses all seemed to perk their heads up and smile at me as I treaded once again upon the familiar path. It was brisk, for I live in New England, and winter doesn't want to give up its stronghold just yet. However, over my head flitted two beautiful bluebirds, their brilliant blue feathers glistening in the bright, early spring sun. At this moment, I realized why these are my favorite birds, and I knew this walk was a blessing.
Then, it occurred to me. These bluebirds were another example of iconic realism, for bluebirds are iconic associations with joy, summer, and general calm. They were flying from tree to tree, realism. Yet, it was so bitterly cold outside. This juxtaposition brought to my attention the cultural dilemma of the importance for us humans to maintain appropriate stewardship of our world. So many beautiful, valuable, fragile creatures' lives are at stake.
In her novel, The Missionary, Sydney Owenson presents two religious communities,
the Hindu community of 17th century India and the European Roman
Catholic community during the Spanish Inquisition. Set in the year, 1620, after
the establishment of the British East India Company in the lush jungles and
arid desert of Western and Northern India, this tale illustrates a political
genesis of European imperialism represented by the two central characters,
Hilarion, a 25-year-old Portuguese Franciscan Nuncio and Luxima, a young,
widowed Brahmin priestess. To some
readers of this narrative, Owenson may appear to be telling an adventurous
romance in an exotic setting to entertain her aristocratic readers, and this
may be partially true. However, her romantic novel illustrates much more, for
iconic properties of parochial dynamism reside at the core of each character’s restrictive
community. These properties include the intense need for the Missionary to
convert non-Christians to Catholicism and the deep conviction of a Hindu’s
integration of natural and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, Owenson creates an
unrestrictive, fertile setting, where the Catholic missionary represents
dogmatic and imperious Britain and the Hindu priestess, faithful to her own
belief and community, represents the fervent hope for freedom of faith found in
Owenson’s Catholic Ireland. Therefore, in her novel, The Missionary, Sydney Owenson illustrates the semiotic theory of
iconic realism by representing two disparate icons, placed within a realistic
community, to reveal a cultural reality that strict adherence to an intolerant
dogma ultimately leads to the consequence of cultural cynicism.