Flesh for Fantasy

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  • Title: Flesh for Fantasy: A Semiotic Contemplation on the Paintings of Mark Ryden
  • Author(s): Elvira K. Katić
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Arts in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Arts Theory and History
  • Keywords: Visual Media, Semiotics, Cultural Commentary
  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2017
  • ISSN: 2326-9952 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-1779 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2326-9952/CGP/v12i02/13-26
  • Citation: Katić, Elvira K.. 2017. "Flesh for Fantasy: A Semiotic Contemplation on the Paintings of Mark Ryden." The International Journal of Arts Theory and History 12 (2): 13-26. doi:10.18848/2326-9952/CGP/v12i02/13-26.
  • Extent: 14 pages


This study analyzes the representation of children in a collection of paintings created by Mark Ryden. Many of the paintings feature children in addition to a mélange of signs and symbols. Both the singular elements and overall composition of the artworks place the observer in a position of tension with regards to interpretation, emotion, and credibility. The representations of children are poised atop the border between innocence and adulteration, compelling the observer to reconsider the very essence of these qualities, especially as commonly dictated by social conventions, culture, and media. Semiotic analysis (consisting of symbolic, social semiotic, and visual analyses) of the paintings was used to decode image elements and the images as a whole. Quantitative methodology was used for statistical inquiries in order to generate numerical data such as percentages. Thirty-nine paintings from seven of Ryden’s collections were independently coded by three individual coders; inter-rater reliability was over eighty-five percent. All elements within each painting were coded, resulting in 156 unique codes. Children are often more self-aware and less self-conscious than adults and as such, Ryden’s work serves as a funhouse mirror for the (adult) observer to engage in reflexive meaning-making. The children in these images remind us that the affectations we nostalgically ascribe to childhood are merely necessary fictions.