Did you know that language could influence the personification of art?

An artist could depict various themes such as death, sin, victory, or even time in human form. However, it has been discovered that 85% of the time, the gender of the human chosen to personify the theme is influenced by the grammatical gender of the word!

A report by Jakobson mentions this: “The Russian painter Repin was baffled as to why Sin had been depicted as a woman by German artists: he did not realise that ‘sin’ is feminine in German (die Sünde), but masculine in Russian (rpex).”

Another instance in which paintings are influenced by language is as shown below.

Take a look at the two paintings. What difference do you see between them?

Der Krieg / War, 1894 by Franz von Stuck (German, 1863-1928)

Polish painting.jpg
Ludzie czy seakale? (People or Jackals?)/ One of the paintings from The Wojna (War) Collection by Artur Grottger (Polish, 1837 – 1867)

The first painting on war by German Franz von Stuck was depicted using a man while the second painting by Polish Artur Grottier was depicted using a woman. A German painter will be more likely to paint a man to portray death, while a Polish painter will paint a woman. This is due to the different grammatical genders of the word ‘war’ in the German and Polish language. This is because in German, der krieg ‘war’ is masculine while in Polish, wojna ‘war’  is feminine.

A bidirectional relationship between language and the art culture can be demonstrated here as well. Paintings like these could influence the way people think about the topic of the artwork and the words used to describe it. For instance, when one sees the first painting above and describes it using English, a language with no grammatical gender, he would most likely use more masculine words like “victory” or “strong” to describe war. However, for the second painting, he would use more feminine words like “sympathy” or “despair”.

Hence, this clearly shows that the grammatical gender of words in languages like German and Polish influences the gender that is personified in art. At the same time, art culture could also influence the way people think about art and the language used to discuss art.


2 thoughts on “Art

  1. Soe Marlar Lwin says:

    A well-designed wiki. The introduction and explanation of the linguistic concepts (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) could be better by citing some references/materials which your target audience (i.e. your AAE10A classmates) will find helpful to extend their knowledge about the hypothesis.

    I assume that the minimum three linguistic concepts/terms/theories covered in your wiki are – SWH strong form, SWH weak form, and claims about cultures. In that case, some introduction to and definitions of “culture” would have been useful. This will also allow you to explain why you decided to focus on these four different types of culture – art, digital, music and Singapore. Without such explanations, it looks a bit odd to put “Singapore” on the same level as “art, digital, music” as a type of culture. “Singapore culture” is a geographical based distinction of culture (e.g. Singaporean culture vs. Australian culture, etc). The first three (especially “art” and “music”) are more abstract.


  2. Soe Marlar Lwin says:

    Starting from the page on “Art”, your wiki becomes very interesting. The examples are very well-chosen. Analysis and explanation are also clear and convincing. In a way, paintings are what we call “visual metaphors” so they certainly serve as evidence of how the language spoken by the artist could affect her thought about certain concepts and how her thought is represented in her painting. It’s a very interesting point. I hope in future maybe you will have a chance to do a proper research study on this (or) interviewing people who speak different languages about their thoughts/words they would use to describe certain abstract concepts portrayed in the paintings.


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