"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Would Jesus Snort?

Controversies over images are neither new nor confined to Islam today. Christians and Jews have long had fierce debates over what images, if any, especially of hieratic realities, may legitimately be made and honored, and how. Iconoclasm is a problem beyond Byzantium. What makes an image an "icon" and how do we treat such icons? These and similar questions are taken up in a new book: Martin Kemp, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon (Oxford UP, 2011), 352pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
How does an image become iconic? In Christ to Coke, eminent art historian Martin Kemp offers a highly original look at the main types of visual icons. Lavishly illustrated with 165 color images, this marvelous work illuminates eleven universally recognized images, both historical and contemporary, to see how they arose and how they continue to function in our culture.

Kemp begins with the stock image of Christ's face, the founding icon--literally, since he was the central subject of early Christian icons. Some of the icons that follow are general, like the cross, the lion, and the heart-shape (as in "I heart New York"). Some are specific, such as the Mona Lisa, Che Guevara, and the famous photograph of the napalmed girl in Vietnam. Other modern icons come from politics, such as the American flag (the "Stars and Stripes"), from business, led by the Coca-Cola bottle, and from science, most notably the double helix of DNA and Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.

The stories of these icons--researched using the skills of a leading visual historian--are told in a vivid and personal manner. Some are funny; some are deeply moving; some are highly improbable; some center on popular fame; others are based on the most profound ideas in science. The diversity is extraordinary.
Along the way, we encounter the often weird and wonderful ways that these images adapt to an astonishing variety of ways and contexts.

Informative, amusing, and surprising by turns, Christ to Coke will entertain and intrigue readers with the narratives that Martin Kemp skillfully weaves around these famous images.

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