Progress in Iconology

Book Preview

Before I begin, let me tell you about a book that I am just starting.  It is relevant to many aspects of my blog including neuroscience, consciousness, and art. The book is The Age of Insight, The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain, by Nobel Laureate, Eric Kandel. I peeked at the first several pages. The setting is Vienna and the volume begins with a history of the political and intellectual influences that shaped that city into the premier center of art and science of the early 20th century. From introductory statements, this book promises to tell the story of the how the discovery of the unconscious mind as described by Freud influenced art, as practiced by three prominent Vienna portraitists, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. I am looking forward to understanding the art and the science of that time in Vienna in relation to modern views of neuroscience.


‘Ology’ is a suffix that means ‘the study of’ something. I have been trying in several ways to create my own set and system of icons that is meaningful to what I wish to express. You might ask why I don’t use the symbols of the alphabet and just write down what I want to say? Good question. I have spent much time during the past year doing that very thing. However, I believe that symbols defined by the artist can be graphically arranged and colored in a way that can be as meaningful or more meaningful than words.

The art of Joan Miró and Paul Klee inspired me to seek graphical symbols (icons) that have meaning to me. Miró’s work has a poetic rhythm on the page and Klee studied the simple ways that children and the mentally ill express themselves. Klee was influenced by the work of Hans Prinzhorn who wrote The Art of Insanity.

Some symbols


I use a spiral for a number of reasons. The spiral is present in nature everywhere, from spiral galaxies to hurricane formations, to the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower; it can be replicated mathematically by the Fibonacci series; the brain itself exhibits several instances of spiral design as can be seen in a cross section of the hippocampus and in its rotation around its hilum, or origin (from Color Atlas of Human Anatomy, Vol 3 Nervous System and Sensory Organs by W. Kahle & M. Frotscher New York: Thieme 2002). I have used spirals to replace the eyes in some of my watercolor abstract experiments; I feel that spirals can have many uses in abstract design.

Interlocking “C”s

A cross section of the hippocampus also reveals a pattern that looks like a letter “C” interdigitated with its mirror image. This is where the seven layers of the cortical sheet is reduced in number and where the white matter cabling arises. Since the hippocampus is part of the limbic system (first known as the emotion circuit) and involved with memory function, my interlocking “C”s will represent these functions.

Wavy lines

I use wavy lines to indicate aromas or the sense of smell. For me, it is a graphical representation of odors wafting through the air.

Musical notes

Intuitively obvious: to represent sound or music. Sometimes I like to illustrate the presence of sound by the use of concentric circles to represent the sound waves.

Today’s experiments:

I call the color study below, “Membrane”. In this case I used the traditional meaning of the color red, namely: red = hot. The membrane is yellow and beyond it is the coolness of the blue.

I have often compared communicating with my older autistic brother, as trying to get through an impermeable membrane.

Icons in color study entitled 'membrane' 12-30-13

Membrane Study
4″x6″ 140# Watercolor Paper

The pen and ink study below is an attempt to use some of the icons I described above.

Pen and Ink study of personal icon development 12-30-13

Icon Study – pen and ink
5″x7″ 140# Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper

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