Using existing images of apples as a starting point, think about what the image of an apple could represent or signify, placing recognisable images in contrast to others, in order to generate new meanings, or to reveal critique or satirise existing images and the ideas represented in those images in some way.
Select apple images from art history or from commercial visual communication. Try to use different visual examples or signifiers to explore different meanings in different contexts. For example an apple in a religious painting is likely to mean something very different from an apple in a TV advert.
Construct a list of images that describes the signifier and what you think is being signified. Reflect on the results in your learning log. What is the range of uses of an apple as a signifier? Can you spot any dominant meanings emerging?
SIN, KNOWLEDGE & TEMPTATION
There are so many images from art history depicting the ‘original sin’ that it’s hard to choose just one, but here’s a 17th century oil-on-copper depiction of Eve offering the forbidden apple to Adam, which resulted in them being forced out of the Garden of Eden.
As well as sin, this story is one of the reasons that apples can also symbolise knowledge. The apple in this story is sometimes known as ‘The Apple (or Fruit) of Knowledge’. It provided Adam and Eve with knowledge about sex when they ate it. They were no longer in a state of innocence and covered their naked bodies. They experienced lust and became aware of sin, and this is what led to them being cast out.
In the same vein, a red apple was featured on the book cover for Twilight to represent the metaphorical ‘forbidden fruit’ that was Bella (a human) and Edward (a vampire) falling in love. Like Adam and Eve eating the apple, Bella and Edward couldn’t resist temptation either, and ended up together despite the possible dangers.
Another scene involving apples that’s often depicted in art history is The Judgement of Paris. Here is a 17th century example.
The story is one from Greek myth whereby the three goddesses Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, competed for the prize of the golden apple awarded ‘to the fairest’. Paris of Troy, the shepherd prince, was to judge, and chose Aphrodite who promised to give him the beautiful Helene for a wife. Helene was later abducted, which directly led to the Trojan War and subsequent fall of Troy. The apple is this story is often referred to as ‘The Apple of Discord’.
Other negative connotations of apples include the poisoned apple (from Snow White & The Seven Dwarves), and also the concept of a ‘bad apple’ which is taken from the saying ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’.
Apples can symbolise teachers/teaching in some cultures. In America, it used to be common practice to bring a polished apple in for the teacher, the reasons explained here. It’s not as common now, but the symbol still stands, and can be seen in teaching awards like this one from CBS News which aims to ” honor teachers for their excellence in teaching and community outreach.”.
YOUTH & HEALTH
A common symbol that apples represent is youth and health.
In Norse mythology, apples were the source of youth and immortality, guarded closely by the goddess Idunn:
In Greek mythology, the golden apples growing in the garden of the Hesperides (the evening nymphs) granted immortality to anyone who ate them.
Renaissance painters moved away from the ‘sin’ interpretation of apples, and more towards love, life, youth, and well-being. Cranach’s ‘The Golden Age’ is a good example of this, depicting naked people dancing around an apple tree, while others are leisurely enjoying themselves nearby.
Apples are often used to denote staying healthy, and we even have a very well-known saying about this – an apple a day keeps the doctor away. This is not strictly true, of course, but the message of well-being is clear.
Apples are frequently featured in TV adverts for dentures, such as this one for Fixodent. The symbolism here is that the fruit is tough and hard on your teeth, but that the denture adhesive can withstand even the apple’s superior strength!
Probably the most famous thing that apples symbolise in the modern era is the technology giant Apple Inc. Supposedly named when Steve Jobs came back from working in an apple orchard, the logo is recognisable all over the world: