Meaning and Interpretations of Historical Icons
MetadataShow full item record
Type of Work68 pages
DepartmentArts and Humanities
RightsAttribution 3.0 United States
Throughout time, it has often been taught that the author or creator holds the greatest authority on the meaning of a work of art. In more recent times, however, many have argued that it is instead the audience's own interpretation that holds the greatest authority. Stuart Hall builds upon the work of other scholars and develops his own theory on interpretation and meaning. Reception theory, as defined by Stuart Hall, is the process in which meaning is developed from a work of art. The process depends on both the creator’s intention and the audience’s interpretation. Hall's theory of reception can be applied to meaning production in general, not just the meaning of art. Through the use of Stuart Hall’s work and the later expansions and criticisms, reception theory can be applied to the interpretation of icons throughout history. The focus of the portfolio will be the application of reception theory on three icons, the Virgin Mary, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler, each represented in a different format. Perhaps one of the most famous icons, the Virgin Mary, has been depicted in countless pieces of art work throughout time. The specific depictions of Mary from the Renaissance period fit what hall calls the dominant hegemonic code. According to Hall, the preferred reading is when the consumer takes the actual meaning directly and decodes the piece exactly the way it was encoded. The agreed upon symbols of the time appear throughout paintings of the Virgin and her Son. Therefore the interpretations at the time the paintings were created would have allowed the audience to see what the painters intended. Another well-known icon is the sixteenth United States president, Abraham Lincoln. Modern interpretations of Abraham Lincoln as an icon, such as the literary genre of historical mash-ups, which pairs classic stories with paranormal themes, directly ties into Hall's oppositional theory. Books such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, take a classic image (that of the all American president) and alter the view drastically breaking from the original intent. The paper will be revised to instead focus more on the interpretations of Lincoln as a symbol and to identify how the reinterpretations of that image break from the original. An equally well known, if more infamous figure, is that of Hitler. In this case, the depictions of Hitler are more through rhetoric than images but the look at the use of Hitler in political rhetoric follows that of Hall’s negotiated position. The negotiated position is a mixture of acceptance and rejection of the creator’s intended meaning. In this case, Hitler can be viewed as the creator of his own image and in today’s political discourse that image is twisted and manipulated to fit one that paints politicians in a negative manner. This portfolio argues that reception theory can help explain how meaning works not just in art but also in history and culture. Ultimately, the audience holds the power in determining what historical icons mean rather than the historical icon themselves. A historical figure becomes an icon only from the perspective of the present, which reaffirms the claims of reception theory that it is the receivers, not the makers, who create meaning.
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