How is language formed? How does a sign convey a message without words? How do symbols develop over time so that they are used locally and internationally? What is our own meaning-making process with certain signs and symbols?
As the first graders at Ressun peruskoulu have been investigating safety signs on the street and will soon embark on inventing their own, we thought it would be a good idea to see how artists have used symbols in their artwork. Each symbol essentially carries its own language and system of communication. Sometimes these messages are clear and sometimes not, but the process of decoding not only challenges our mind to understand from another perspective, but we can also learn a lot about ourselves along the way.
Today, we looked at David X. Levine's series, LESSONS, as he created his own language for these artworks. David's language, although kept secret, is communicating many things. Everybody in class shared their own interpretation of what each symbol meant and what the artwork is trying to tell us. Some perceived each symbol as a letter or a word or even a whole sentence. We all were left with wanting to know more, so we decided to interview David.
1B: What is your favourite food?
DXL: FRENCH FRIES.
1B: What do you like to do?
DXL: I LIKE TO GO TO THE MOVIES & SEE SILLY FILMS.
1B: Do you have a pet?
DXL: NO. BUT I LOVE CATS.
1B: Do you have kids?
DXL: NO. BUT I THINK KIDS ARE AWESOME.
1B: Why do you make art?
DXL: MAKING ART MAKES ME FEEL GOOD. & IT’S SO EXCITING TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
1B: What things do you not like to do?
DXL: I DON’T LIKE TO BE AROUND MEAN PEOPLE.
1B: How can you make such big pictures using colored pencils?
DXL: I AM VERY PATIENT & I HAVE NO OTHER JOB SO I CAN SPEND ALL DAY DOING IT. ALSO, IT’S EXCITING TO DO SOMETHING SO RIDICULOUS.
1B: How long does one drawing take to make?
DXL: ONE DRAWING TAKES ABOUT 3 WEEKS TO MAKE.
1B: How many languages have you created?
DXL: I HAVE ONLY CREATED THIS ONE LANGUAGE. ALTHOUGH ABSTRACT ART IS ALSO A LANGUAGE, & EACH ARTIST WHO MAKES ABSTRACT ART IS MAKING THEIR OWN LANGUAGE SO THAT THEY CAN COMMUNICATE TO THE WORLD, & TO THEMSELVES. SO I GUESS I HAVE CREATED 2 LANGUAGES SO FAR.
1B: Where did you get this idea from?
DXL: BECAUSE I FELT PEOPLE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND MY ART I THOUGHT I WOULD GIVE THEM A REAL REASON TO NOT UNDERSTAND IT BY CREATING A LANGUAGE THAT ONLY I UNDERSTOOD.
1B: How old are you? When is your birthday?
DXL: I AM 56 YEARS OLD. I WAS BORN ON JUNE 22, 1962 AT 3:45AM.
1B: What is your favourite color?
DXL: IT CHANGES ALL THE TIME. WHEN I WAS YOUNG IT WAS BLACK. THEN PINK. 2 YEARS AGO IT WAS GREY. NOW IT IS YELLOW.
1B: Do you have very expensive shoes?
1B: Where are you from?
DXL: MALDEN, MASSACHUSETTS. VERY CLOSE TO BOSTON, THE CAPITAL.
1B: How many letters/symbols are in this language?
1B: What does each symbol in your language mean?
DXL: EACH SYMBOL REPRESENTS A WORD OR PHRASE WHICH ONLY I KNOW. I USE THESE SYMBOLS TO WRITE A POEM ON MY PAPER, WHICH BECOMES AN ABSTRACT DRAWING.
1B: What is your favourite cake?
DXL: STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE!
Thank you, DAVID X. LEVINE!
Arlene Tucker is an artist and educator currently based in Helsinki, Finland.