From Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes an Icon

Fascinating thoughts from this new book.

Here’s the author, Martin Kemp : “Some types of images are specific — like Lisa and Che — while some are generic, such as the heart shape. The generic ones tend to seep gradually into general consciousness. The heart shape appeared on playing cards and became the religious symbol of the sacred heart, before becoming the ubiquitous symbol of love. It takes a designer of genius, like Milton Glaser, to refresh its power in the service of a specific cause. We all know I(heart)NY. But New York largely surrendered the ‘Big Apple’ to Steve Jobs.”

And more from an article I read:

“The more famous the image, the more likely it is that our common knowledge is inaccurate.

The fact that Leonardo’s portrait in the Louvre represents Lisa Gheradini, the apparently blameless wife of a Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, is not enough to match the mega-fame of the image. We need a hidden ‘secret’ or ‘code’ to explain its hold on us.

During the writing of the book, I was told a number of times that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) is dressed in red and white because of Haddon Sundblom’s brilliant Coke adverts each Christmas. Not true!

Sometimes the legends assume the status of a certain kind of ‘truth’. The story that the Stars and Stripes was designed by the humble seamstress Betsy Ross, who sat in the next church pew to George Washington, embodies folksy homeliness in such a way that it has becomes an essential ‘fact’ of America’s founding myth.”

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