For thousands of years chinthe pairs have protected Burman pagodas and temples in Burma and other Asian countries. The chinthe symbol was born from an Oedipus style legend. One version of the story is that a princess and a lion fell in love. They eloped into the forest surrounding their kingdom, against the wishes their King and Queen. After giving birth to a male heir the princess returned to the palace in search of security. Never knowing whom his father was, the young heir returned to the forest as an adult to slay the angry lion who had been wreaking havoc on the people outside the palace walls. When he discovered he had slain his father, the prince had two chinthes (half lion, half human) erected to guard the pagoda and to honour his father’s memory.
Are they the same? Not according to Jung (1964 pp.19). Signs can be words, initials or a string of letters representing an organisation, for example UNICEF Signs can be logos and trademarks. Signs denote a prescribed meaning. They are a conscious representation of an object or meaning. Symbols have more than their obvious ‘on the surface’ meaning. Symbols can take on different meanings according to where and how they are placed, in which culture or tradition they are used and by the person interpreting the symbol. Jung goes on to state that each symbol has infinite interpretations beyond it’s archetypal meaning (Jung, 1964, p 21-23), as each person brings with them their own history of conscious and unconscious thoughts; symbols are read through the lens of each persons limited knowledge of the world. Von Franz (1964) calls this process Individuation.
Signs can also have a symbolic meaning. Symbols can also be signs. But they do not mean the same thing. A sign can exist on it’s own without a symbolic meaning attached to it. A symbol cannot exist without it’s sign (or signifier), the physical description of what represents the symbol).
Jung.C.G.,1964, Man And His Symbols, Aldus Books Ltd, London, pp 19-23
When investigating signs and symbols it is necessary to decide which way they are to be interpreted. This research will at various times use all or some of the following ways of seeing.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEMIOTICS, ICONOGRAPHY & SOCIAL SEMIOTICS
Semiotics: Signs and Symbols are interpreted using their common meaning within their cultural setting.
Iconography: As well as paying attention to the symbol in the semiotic sense, iconography looks at the placement of the symbol in relation to other symbols, including the text that may be with it, how it is communicated, the cultural significance and historical reasoning.
Social Semiotics- A collection of signs symbols are interpreted to bring about a holistic meaning for the collection. The difference between Iconography and Social Semiotics is that Iconography interprets signs within its cultural and historical context, whereas Social Semiotics could interpret unrelated signs and symbols to bring about a new meaning when put together.
Open symbolism – actual symbols placed with intention to denote a particular meaning.
Disguised symbolism – when artists unconsciously depict a symbol in their art within a naturalistic setting. The symbol may or may not help define the meaning the artist intends for the work.
(Van Leeuwen, 2001, pp.92-4)
TOOLS USED TO READ SIGNS & SYMBOLS
Signifiers – The items of significance in the artwork, the people places and things
Denotation – The description of what is happening in the artwork without an interpretation.
Connotation – The interpretation. The ideas and values that are expressed by the people places and things that are represented and how they are represented.
(Bathes, 1977, p.36)
Van Leeuwen, T. 2001; ‘Semiotics and Iconography’, in Van Leeuwen, T. and Jewett C. 2001 Handbook of Visual Analysis, Sage Publications, London pp 92-94
Bathes, R., 1977; Elements of Semiology, 36 Farrar, Hill and Wang, a division of Straus and Giroux, New York p 35