Self-Symbols: Butterfly or Dragonfly

Gioia-Dragonfly Altered Book

A few years back, Gioia went on a butterfly binge. Butterflies showed up all the time in her artwork. It seemed to make sense that butterflies appeared—she was going through a lot of changes in her life, many of them positive, and butterflies are often associated with metamorphosis and transformation.

After feeling that the butterfly symbol had run its course, she moved on to dragonflies. What did they mean? Well, according to a quick Internet search, dragonflies can represent lots of things: water and light, transformation, higher aspirations, a carefree nature, gaining power through dreams and the imagination, even the ability to see through illusion. Dragonflies are supposed to teach us balance and skillful action with a free and joyful attitude. In Japan, the dragonfly is known as katsumushi or “invincible insect,” a favorite symbol of strength among warriors.

J. C. Cooper’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols notes that while dragonflies share with the butterfly the symbolism of immortality and regeneration, they also have a shadow side, sometimes representing whirlwind activity, swiftness, instability, unreliability, and access to mysterious agents of the gods and spirits. Wow, watch out, Gioia!  Those dragonflies are powerful!  Luckily, with symbolic interpretation there really is no one right answer.  You pick what’s useful, what makes sense to you, and leave the rest.

In our workshops, we will sometimes ask people to draw a symbol to represent some aspect of themselves; for example, that they choose an animal that embodies one or more of their strengths. The metaphors that emerge-the faithful dog, independent cat, creative bee–offer a playful way to find some new insights into what makes us tick. They create a unique way to access and convey our experience and a lens through which we and others can see ourselves in a new way.

Suzanne K. Langer once said we create art symbols to discover “organized feeling, the rhythms of life, the forms of emotion” (1953, p. 392). All that from a little dragonfly? Well, why not?! What animal, insect, creature would be your self-symbol?

Positive yours, Rebecca (cat) and Gioia (dragonfly)

Art Directive:
Make a self symbol collage: Cut out a magazine picture you relate to–could be an animal or anything that speaks to you (a plant, a form of transportation, a type of fruit) and paste it into a new environment or background, adding any final details with a sharpie. Journal about how this symbol in its environment relates to you and your life.