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Interpreting Prehistoric Designs: Robert Bagley’s article review

Robert Bagley’s article presents a discussion surrounding his perspective on universal motifs by engaging in the discussion of the meaning of the iconic paired eyes that are noted to appear in prehistoric designs. The author’s main topic is that of the identification of iconography in art as well as the meanings that are attached to it with regards to the contexts that it has been used in. Bagley’s ideas revolve around the enigmatic nature of these objects whose interpretations are uncertain. The premise presented in the article is that the prominence of these design objects does have a similar meaning wherever they are encountered.

The author’s central argument is that any universal motif cannot be explained through the meanings attached to it, this means a motif can only be explained by an individual’s innate reaction to it. The author does argue that the meaning that is attached to a singular motif in a particular context cannot be assigned to other contexts. This becomes a reflection of how iconography is treated in art history considering that meanings cannot be gained through ethnographic analogy or even cross-cultural comparisons. Since the human perception system does have an inherent response to iconography, people do not need to understand the reason why such a design exists.

In support of his argument, Bagley does present both pictorial and textual evidence to show how design travels and covers various contexts. The images present designs that range from prehistoric British carvings to third-millennium Danish designs that offer similar representations. The premise of this is to show designs tend to have similar permanent meanings despite the distance traveled and who encounters them. The textual evidence presented in this instance revolves around the explanation of the contexts in which these designs are found that are similar to the meaning they carry.

In his conclusion, Bagley uses the evidence to underline the fact that some of these designs are a diffusion from different cultures over time. These universal motifs that are presented in the form of design are used in different ways in human life. Despite the diffusion of these universal motifs, their meaning remains the same. The creation of these symbols and designs is not different from what man has at the moment. The only difference is that these designs do occur in a context that could be informative or even more detailed than others. It is irrelevant to understand why universal motifs exist since the human perception system does not depend on arbitrary convections.

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