Meaning and Symbolism of The Cage
This image deals with the various forms of sequestration that characterize contemporary society. Sequestration, in this sense, signifies a withdrawal into a false reality that is simply given. There are many aspects of contemporary society that can distract people from the more essential aspects of life and many people intentionally wrap their lives up in these forms of voluntary sequestration. For example, things like television, shopping malls, and other forms of entertainment advertised to the public are all types of voluntary sequestration. Through engaging in forms of sequestration excessively a person can become detached from the world and can fail to develop as an individual. A person can turn into a cold distant observer in life rather than an active participant that can make a meaningful contribution.
There is a sense of lifelessness that comes with sequestration. In this image this is symbolized through the dirty textures, peeling paint, dead plants, and overall run down feel of this image. The room is run down, but not abandoned. It seems abandoned because of the run down feel it has, but there are a lot of objects in the room that can be used, which can indicate that the room is occupied in some sense. The contrast between the abandoned, lifeless feel of the scene and the reality that it’s still in use, or “alive”, can be true of humans as well when sequestered. They are alive, yet dead at the same time. When sequestered intentionally, the potential and ability within a person is ignored and the individual becomes dead to the world around them.
In order for a person to sequester themselves willingly, there must be some sort of appeal that draws them to it. This appeal can be found in all forms of voluntary sequestration that exist in society and are advertised to the public. In the image, this draw towards sequestration is symbolized through the pictures on the wall. For some, these pictures would be appealing in that they are pleasant to look at and a person’s time can be absorbed in observing them all day. Yet, unless the viewer is the artist, they are not the viewer’s own creation. Similarly, forms of sequestration are simply given and most who willingly sequestrate themselves are content to just accept them as they are and move to other forms of sequestration when one form loses its appeal.
There are forms of sequestration that can be involuntary. This scene is reminiscent of a school classroom. The podium, chairs, and chalkboards represent an ordered structure or restrictive institution that can be found in some places such as schools. Institutions that focus on order and structure based on societal norms can “teach away” a person’s creativity and individuality because the focus is not on encouraging individuality, but rather the primary focus is on enforcing the rules that are given for all to follow. In this way, people can be molded into something other than who they are. Usually, when these things are taught away it is allowed to happen unintentionally and unconsciously, which in a sense makes it involuntary. The symbolism of ordered structures also represents the strict structures and bad routines people can drive themselves into that can strip away their individuality. This form of sequestration can be harder to escape because the loss of one’s creativity and individuality can be something that has gone on for several years. Escaping it requires an individual to think in a new way and to be reflexive of who they want to be. The mirror in this scene symbolizes this reflexivity, which is simply a reflection of a person’s true self.
There are many ways to escape forms of sequestration and because of this the path of liberation will be different for everyone. In this image there are exits which represent different means of escape. The doorway, staircase, and open window are these exits. The light comes in from these exits which draw our eyes towards them when looking at the image. This symbolizes another kind of draw. It is a draw away from these forms of sequestration into a life, an existence, rich with meaning, feeling, direction, and a purpose. The pull of sequestration through its appeal and the pull towards humanity is another contrast commonly felt in everyday life.
There is a fourth exit in the image, the easel and the unfinished painting. Painting can be creative work. Through the process of creation a person no longer deals with something prepackaged, something that is simply given, but instead actively engages in producing something unique that can convey meaning and affect others who observe it. A process such as painting a picture for hours may seem to be another form of sequestration, but it really isn’t. A person can be in isolation when in the creating process, but the difference is that this creative process can have an effect that can vastly enrich a person’s life in some way. This creative process has an ability to affect the painter and someone else who might see meaning and value behind it. This can be an immediate or distant effect, and with this effect a person isn’t sequestered, but becomes an active participant that can contribute to humanity.
The painting is unfinished, a work in progress, which can be said the same of any active creative process. An artist never really arrives at a certain place, but is always in a state of becoming. The true artist is never content with where he or she is because the true artist knows there is always more to see, know, and do. There is always a deeper meaning to be found and a deeper level of understanding that can be reached. This view of a true artist can be said of anyone that isn’t sequestered. They are active participants that constantly engage in life and constantly change in a world around them that constantly changes. Life can be seen as being essentially the same as any creative work, in that it is always in the making and always being expanded upon.
Finally, the cages in this image represent various forms of sequestration that can cage a person with false realities. In this scene however, all the cages are empty representing an escape from these forms of sequestration.
That is not to say that just because something can be sequestering means that it has a negative effect. Something like watching a television program, reading a book, or viewing art can be very inspiring and relaxing. There is a need for balance between actively engaging in the world and isolating oneself from it. It seems in contemporary society however it is easier to be distracted by forms of sequestration in which there are more now than ever before. It also seems as a result of this most people have a hard time finding a balance and such that the focus of their lives is caught up in these forms of sequestration. Although for some, the main goal in life deals with these forms of voluntary sequestration. Instead of transcending given realities and realizing their true potential they sequester themselves willingly and treating life as if it goes on forever.
(My philosophy teacher says she sees this as an image of transcendence. Feel free to comment on what this means to you.)
(A larger version of the image can be seen here.)