Unlocking the hidden language of symbols is akin to discovering a secret code that speaks to the very essence of our existence. For designers and architects who strive to create spaces and visuals that deeply resonate with people, understanding the power of symbolic imagery is essential. In this quest for creative enlightenment, one book stands out as a true treasure trove of inspiration: The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, published by Taschen in 2010. Whether you are engaged in brand design or exploring the symbolic value in architectural design, this book serves as an invaluable resource.
Symbols serve as the DNA of our culture, leaving an indelible impact on our thoughts, message interpretation, and decision-making. This is precisely why they hold immense significance in the realms of communication design and architecture. As a graphic designer, I have always felt the necessity for a resource that could serve as a starting point for my symbolic exploration when crafting a new visual identity. While this book may not be an exhaustive encyclopaedia of symbols, it undoubtedly serves as an extraordinary tool for any creative designer, and that is precisely why I am writing about it today.
Delving into the World of Archetypal Symbols
The Book of Symbols spans approximately 800 pages and acts as a concise guide to some of the world’s most significant symbols. Within its pages, you’ll find over 350 essays, each exploring the meaning and history of a specific symbol across various cultures. This collection showcases stunning images sourced from diverse corners of the world, providing a visual feast that stimulates the imagination. As the subtitle suggests, “Reflections on Archetypal Images,” the book draws heavily from the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung. It comes as no surprise, given that the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) of New York, curated the creation of the book for about 13 years before the 2010 publication.
Structure and Content of the Book of Symbols
The Book of Symbols is divided into five sections: ‘Creation and Cosmos,’ ‘Plant World,’ ‘Animal World,’ ‘Human World,’ and ‘Spirit World.’ These sections are further subdivided into concise entries, providing a couple of pages dedicated to the history, meaning, and value of each symbol across different cultures. It serves as a gateway to the world of symbols, introducing readers to the significance and narratives behind some of the most important symbols worldwide.
While The Book of Symbols boasts excellent image quality and extensive content, it does not claim to be the definitive encyclopaedia on symbols. Such a monumental undertaking would require thousands of additional pages. Instead, this book serves as a captivating introduction, kindling curiosity and inviting readers to delve further into the realm of symbolic imagery. Its hardcover format, complete with five ribbon markers and thumb recesses in the main sections, encourages readers to explore at their own pace.
The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism
The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), which curated the publication of the Book of Symbols, is an incredibly interesting project. I’m glad to talk about it because it’s an incredible resource for any designer interested in delving into the study of symbols. To date, ARAS has compiled an encyclopaedic collection of over 18,000 archetypal images, photographs of artistic works, artefacts, and traditions from around the world. The collection originated from Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn‘s archive, which she donated to the Warburg Institute in London in 1946 and more recently acquired by the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York.
Previously, accessing the archive necessitated a personal visit to one of its three locations: New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. However, with the digitisation of the archive, it is now conveniently accessible to anyone with an internet-connected computer and a web browser, transcending geographical boundaries.
Of particular interest to researchers, designers, and architects are the accompanying study sheets that provide meticulous documentation. These sheets furnish detailed descriptions of each image, offer cultural-historical contexts, present archetypal commentaries to explore modern psychological interpretations and provide a wealth of cross-cultural references and related concepts/images. Additionally, a bibliography for further reading and a glossary of technical terms are provided, enriching the scholarly exploration of archetypal symbolism.
Through the ARAS archive, designers and architects can embark on a journey that encompasses a vast realm of archetypal symbols. By drawing upon this extensive collection, they can deepen their understanding of symbols, enhance their creative processes, and establish connections that transcend cultural barriers. This resource is a testament to the enduring significance and universality of archetypal symbolism, offering a scholarly foundation for their work and fostering a nuanced exploration of the human psyche and its visual expressions.
A perfect book for designers and Architects
The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images is a must-have addition to the library of any designer or architect seeking inspiration from the world of symbols. I consider it an excellent starting point for any exploration of symbolism. With its rich content, breathtaking visuals, and insightful essays, it opens the door to a deeper understanding of the power of symbolism in creative endeavours.