Flesh for Fantasy: A Semiotic Contemplation on the Paintings of Mark Ryden

By Elvira K. Katić.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study analyzes the representation of children in a collection of paintings created by Mark Ryden. Many of the paintings feature children in addition to a mélange of signs and symbols. Both the singular elements and overall composition of the artworks place the observer in a position of tension with regards to interpretation, emotion, and credibility. The representations of children are poised atop the border between innocence and adulteration, compelling the observer to reconsider the very essence of these qualities, especially as commonly dictated by social conventions, culture, and media. Semiotic analysis (consisting of symbolic, social semiotic, and visual analyses) of the paintings was used to decode image elements and the images as a whole. Quantitative methodology was used for statistical inquiries in order to generate numerical data such as percentages. Thirty-nine paintings from seven of Ryden’s collections were independently coded by three individual coders; inter-rater reliability was over eighty-five percent. All elements within each painting were coded, resulting in 156 unique codes. Children are often more self-aware and less self-conscious than adults and as such, Ryden’s work serves as a funhouse mirror for the (adult) observer to engage in reflexive meaning-making. The children in these images remind us that the affectations we nostalgically ascribe to childhood are merely necessary fictions.

Keywords: Visual Media, Semiotics, Cultural Commentary

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp.13-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 746.642KB).

Dr. Elvira K. Katić

Professor, Teacher Education, School of Social Services and Human Sciences, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, New Jersey, USA

Dr. Elvira K. Katić is a professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, USA. Her principal research interests include visual and social semiotic research, preservice teacher learning and teaching practices, and emergent technological literacies.