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A further illustration of this point might be seen in consideration of major symbols. One of the single most recognized and historically prominent symbols in all of Western civilization would be the cross, the central and major symbol of the Christian religion. How does it work, and why did it come to be? How can anything so expansive, incredibly diverse, and historically complex as a major world religion possibly be summed up, contained and perfectly represented in one symbol? How can a single symbol contain multiple layers of meaning, so that it tells us more than one thing about the object represented? And how can that summation and representation be accomplished with such amazing and elegant simplicity?


On the first and most obvious level, the cross is a pictorial depiction of the actual instrument of capital punishment which was used to execute the historical Jesus of Nazareth. On a secondary level, to many ancient peoples the horizontal line was a representation of the world itself, of temporality, and history; I,e,. literally the “horizon” of our known, human world. At the same time, the vertical line flows not ‘across’ time and the world, but ‘down’ into it. The vertical line is an entry into the world of a higher dimension; it represents eternity, transcendence and the divine. In the cross, these two planes – the horizontal and the vertical – connect and intersect; in so doing, they form a new identity. For over two thousand years, Jesus Christ has been described exactly in this manner by the church; as the meeting place of the human and the divine. On a third level, the shape of the cross is a pictogram of a cube unfolded; imagine each ‘arm’ of the cross as the flap of an unfolded box. If you wrap those arms back up, in toward the center, you get an enclosed cube, and the cube is the universal symbol of matter. Unfold those same flaps – or ‘explode’ them open – and you get the release of that which is enclosed by matter – this being spirit. This was the ancient’s way of saying that Jesus, through his entry into the world (matter) and his sacrifice on the cross, overcame the material realm so that the spirit trapped inside could take flight.


Thus we find three levels of meaning (and there are more) captured and summed up in the symbol or graphic representation of the cross. But more; we see that as a symbol, the cross does not merely point toward this religious founder as a mere sign would do. We see instead that in the very nature of the cross is contained the same qualities and meanings which we encounter in the person and the meaning of Jesus himself.


From this we can conclude that symbols are very powerful things. Be they religious objects, national objects (such as a flag) or a hand gesture (the ‘peace’ sign or ‘victory’ sign), symbols possess the almost miraculous capacity to arouse our most deep seated concerns and beliefs; behind a “mere” symbol, people will march off into war, or be moved to create harmony and peace. Sometimes, as we see in the word and representations for “Green”, the simple word itself can sum up and stand in for an entire political and social movement – in this case the environmental movement. And from this, we also see how important it is that you have the right symbols working for you.


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By: Ted DeCagna


Ted DeCagna Graphic Design… clients have been coming to us for over 28 years for…Graphic Design… Logo Design & Business Stationery… Company Brochures… Photography… Package Design… Website Design & Development… Print Advertising and more. Winner of more than 25 professional design awards. You can connect with Ted on Google+.