Signs, symbols and Icons are visual shorthand for communicating universal concepts with much more richness than words alone. Also culturally, they are considered as values, beliefs and traits that portray certain individuals and societies. They form characters that determine social structure.
There are many descriptions and explanations regarding on signs. Culturally, it can be described as an omen that gives indications of things that will occur at certain place and time in the future, a premonition. Certain cultures around the globe still hold this belief even in this modern era. These omens can be perceived as persons, events, animals, and objects whether it’s man made or natural. For example, in some cultures, the presence of black cats and crows are indication of something bad, or bad luck will occur. Either to individuals or a group of people, it is known as bad omen. Even in our own culture, there are beliefs with the presence of these signs that can lead to certain events in the future. A butterfly inside a house is an omen that someone will visit the homeowner. In terms of communications, forms of signs like hand gestures, images, body movements, scents and sounds can be used to established an understanding between individuals or parties. These sign languages can be directly to the point or delivered with hidden messages that can only be understood by the receivers only. Visually, signs can be used to identify, give instructions and give information to societies. In the field of graphic designs, the effectiveness of signs is very crucial and important to the society. Signage and road signs are good examples of visual signs.
On the other hand, symbols are just like signs, they stand for something but with more layers and richer in meanings. In Greek the word symbol means “image”. They may represent individuals, societies, parties, events, idealisms, moral values or religions. The name of each person on this planet is a symbol representing the individuals themselves. Symbols can appear in many forms, objects, persons, names, places, dates, events, and visual signs. For examples, American actress and singer, Marilyn Monroe was considered as sex symbol during her glorious years. It was her appearance, social life and the people around her that gave the impression of her being a sex symbol. In fact, many of public figures from different eras were considered as symbols to lot of idealism, moral values and certain cultures. Different symbols have different meanings in different cultures. For examples, Ernesto Che’ Guevara was the symbol of hope, resistance, freedom to some Cubans but for the rest of the world, he’s the symbol of terrorism. Visual symbols, like the swastika, it is a religious symbol for the Buddhists, a symbol of eternity but to the fanatics of Nazi idealism, it’s the unconquerable and power. Today, it represents racism and hate. Symbols are perceived differently for different individuals and societies.
Meanwhile, Icons represent something that has sacred significant and values, important, loved, worshipped and followed by certain individuals, cultures, societies, place or a period in history. Most icons that are being followed are mostly important figures and persons. For example, Andy Warhol the icon of pop art that took the 60s era by storm with his avant-garde contemporary art, from paintings to art movies. Even his famous Marilyn Monroe’s print has become an icon for the movement. Both Leonardo Da Vinci and his famous painting Monalisa are both icons of the Renaissance art movement, even until today. It’s hard to exclude these two when mentioning about the movement. Icons give impact. That is how to determine the worthiness of the subjects if ever to be considered as icons, especially in art movements. Not only in art, even other fields, there will always be icons that represent the subjects and followed or loved by individuals and societies, and certainly not just persons, it may be objects or works.
These three act as important elements in human communication and can be described as values and sometimes religious or cultural traits that determine certain individuals, parties and societies. Their existence in art has helped its movement through the ages and gives birth to a lot styles and philosophies.