Paint the World is a 501(c)3 aiming to shift the paradigm around the impact potential of the arts. In 2021, PTW ran programs in 6 countries, engaging healthcare, education, and engineering professionals. Our Symbols Series is an exploration of archetypal symbols that arise from a community’s collective unconscious & how we can strategically use the appearance of these symbols in art to better understand community needs. To stay up to date on latest releases, follow us on instagram, and join us here.
“To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. The soul of humanity is like the great wheel of the zodiac that rolls along the way: everything that comes up in a constant movement from below to the heights was already there. There is no part of the wheel that does not come around again. Hence, everything that has been streams upward there, and what has been will be again. For these are all things which are the inborn properties of human nature. It belongs to the essence of forward movement that what was returns. Yet the meaning does not lie in the eternal recurrence of the same.”
— Carl Jung, The Red Book, The Way of the Cross, Page 311
From the dawn of humanity, the concept of birth has held the ultimate significance as it marks our closest experience to creation and therefore — what many civilizations have believed — is our closest means of understanding life itself. It has thus been used in numerous artistic expressions, whether through references to actual childbirth or the metaphoric use of the concept in conveying new beginnings.
Since prehistoric times, humans have been depicting the notion of birth in poetry, drawing, painting, sculpture, film, textiles, music and every other human artistic medium imaginable. The concept of birth is prevalent through a multitude of artistic styles and periods, from ancient Egyptian tomb paintings to Renaissance religious artwork, and from contemporary pop art to aboriginal cave drawings.
Among birth’s most popular representations are pieces that truly embody the concept of liveliness and growth, such as Renoir’s ‘Tulips in a Vase’ or Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series. These pieces often depict flowers that are in the process of blooming, signifying the birth of a new day, month, year or season.
However, the Birth Motif in art often appears in more expected ways as in the pieces below, for example:
From left to right: “Birth of Venus” (1485) by Sandro Botticelli, “Simurgh Assisting the Birth of Rustam” (late 16th century), “The Birth Of Bacchus” (1530s) by Giulio Romano, “The Birth Of Olympism” by Jordi Aluma, “The Breaking Of The Seventh Seal — Birth Of Artist” by Tadanori Yokoo, Self-Portrait (1940) by Frida Kahlo
There are as many artistic interpretations of birth as there are those who have tackled the subject. Some see it as a moment of overwhelming beauty and awe, while others focus on the pain and struggle associated with the process. It can be interpreted as a metaphor for new beginnings, or as a physical manifestation of the miracle of life.
Birth in Street Art
The idea of birth is as relevant today as it has ever been, and remains a powerful symbol with layers of meaning deeply embedded. Its more modern presence in street art can be seen in the likes of Natalia Rak’s ‘Lets Keep The Plants Alive’ (Białystok, Poland), which features a young girl giving life to a new plant through water. The work is both a celebration of life and a warning about the negative impact humans are having on the environment. Some see it as a call to action, urging people to take care of the planet and its inhabitants; others may see it as a simple celebration of life.
“Lets Keep The Plants Alive” by Natalia Rak (Białystok, Poland)
From top left to right: “Conexion” (London) by Mazatl, “Tardor” (Spain), “The Miracle of Birth” (Montreal) by Ashop, Title/Artist unknown (Russia), “Visualizing Birth” (John Adams Community College, San Francisco)
The exploration of birth in art is a gateway to a better understanding of both the artist and the audience. In this way, the artistic presence of the concept of birth can be used to develop a more thorough understanding of a particular community by exploring the various ways in which it has been expressed. Within a particular community, one can ask: Is this community’s artistic representation of birth light or dark? Is it lined with hope or fear?
However, regardless of how it is expressed, the concept of birth is one that speaks to the human experience on a deep and universal level. Observing a community’s perception of the concept can provide valuable insights into a population’s priorities, values and beliefs, as well as attitudes toward life and the world at large. As an intimate and universal concept to the world at large, understanding perceptions of birth serves as a window through which we can better understand other interpretations and outlooks on existence.