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Iconic images, symbols, and archetypes: their function in art and science

Frances R Westley, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience; School for Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo
Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Beijer Institute, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden


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The relationship between art and science is one of contrasts and commonalities. We look at one commonality between art and science: the central role of iconic images. We argue that iconic images are the touchstone symbols in both art and science and provide similar functions for both. We propose that these iconic images provoke an openness and a receptivity to our deepest emotional capacities and a connection between those and the dynamics of the broader social-ecological systems in which we operate. Such iconic images may also act as attractors that provoke the emergence of increasing levels of intellectual and aesthetic self-organization, not only at an individual level, but also in terms of larger social, scientific, or artistic fields. Finally, through a combination of this attraction and this connection, iconic images may play a role in transformation.

Key words

iconic images; reconciling art and science; symbols; transformation

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087