Icons and Metaphors: Three Views of Jesus

January 28, 2009

The same person, place, object, or idea may often be represented in different ways, even when all of the representations are purely visual.

Some images are so “basic” in their meaning that they are said to trigger associations deep within the viewer’s mind.  These are called archetypes.  Examples might include “love,” “war,”joy,” or, as I have chosen, “messiah,” or “Jesus.”

Some images represent generalizations about an entire class of people or things based on limited experience.  They say a lot about our expectations for what that person or thing should be.  These are known as stereotypes.

A third type of image is so overused – and usually lacks meaningful detail – that it has become known as a cliche.

james_caviezel_jesus As an archetype I have chosen a shot of actor James Caviezel dressed as Jesus from the film The Passion of the Christ (found at Internet Movie Database).

The reason for my selection is this portrait looks thoughtful and natural.  The woody brown tone of his cloak and hair are reminiscent of his work as a carpenter.  Maybe he had his hood up because it was cold out.

This is, though glamorized with a handsome actor, something like Jesus might have looked walking down the road, or thinking, in his life.

alejandro_jesusThis is my stereotype image.  The picture comes with text, but I think it is fully a stereotype without the text.

This “Jesus” has carefully curled hair and manicured hands.  And he is standing in a pose that suggests he is blowing a kiss.

This is an illustration of the “nice guy” or “happy therapist” stereotype of Jesus.

stapp_hands_folded I admit, this is not really the image I wanted of Scott Stapp as a Jesus cliche.

The image I really wanted was from Creed’s (Stapp’s old band’s) music video of the song “With Arms Wide Open.” (on YouTube).

Follow the link to the video and pause it at second 0:39 or 3:32.  The arms-spread-open pose is what I was after.

Why is this a cliche?  Only because it is not very expressive or communicative of detail or subtlety.  And even in everyday talk in the past few years “Creed” became synonymous with “commercially popular, slightly sappy Christian band.”