Icons used to be the preserve of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Those who ‘write’ icons and admire them say that not every icon has significance for them and even in the iconic tradition there are people for whom icons leave them cold. For others, ‘reading’ icons helps them to see and know more.
If Google is anything to go by the biggest trade these days is not in the religious representations of Jesus or Madonna but in the downloadable icons available on our computer screens. These digital images that first appeared in 1982 on the Star computers symbolize and call to mind familiar objects such as magnifying glasses, printers and recycling bins.
In the 1950s the term icon came to mean a person or a thing regarded as being a symbol of a culture or a movement. Like the religious icon, a ‘cultural icon’ might be a person considered worthy of admiration and respect.
Steve Irwin, who died tragically on Monday 4 September, is being hailed as ‘an Australian icon’. Many Aussies cringed when Irwin, was used by the media to serve as a representative, or as Prime Minister called him ‘a face of Australia’ but as with all icons, Irwin offered a glimpse into the Australian love of the larrikin and the bush.
The Brits this year have had an icon contest that they called ‘the Great Britain Design Quest’. The public was asked to vote for their favorite British design icon since 1900. People relished the opportunity to contribute and they voted in their thousands. The icon that came out on top was the Concorde and others in the top 25 list included the Mini, the Phone kiosk, the E Type Jag and the Dr Martens Boot. The good icons are those ‘pictures’ that stir pride and give people a sense of ownership—‘Yes, that’s us!’
It’s good to reflect on the things and the people where we live who are icons for they give us a glimpse into our identity, our values and what glues us together.
Image: Steve Irwin, ‘lovable larrikin’