Emoji: Modern Symbol Communication

Possible Classroom Concepts: Language Arts – Communication

Social Studies – Different Cultures (Communications), Mathematics – Graphing, Area

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Cave Paintings, Chinese Calligraphy, Hieroglyphics, Native American Pictographs

Symbols, Abstraction, Commercial Art, Showing Emotion

The MoMA (Museum of ModernArt) has recently obtained the original 176 emoji created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999. This may bring up the age old questions: Are these art? Do these belong in an art museum? I’ve investigated these questions before in posts about fashionbaseball cards and sneakers. In this case, as in the others, I say a resounding yes! Emoji are communication symbols. Symbols have been used as a form of art and communication from the beginning of mankind. Before there was any kind of written alphabet, the cave men drew animals, hunters and handprints on cave walls. We aren’t sure exactly what they meant, but they do give us a peek into their lives. Symbols as forms of communication started over 3,000 years ago in places like Egypt, in the form of hieroglyphics, and China. Chinese calligraphy started out as pictures and abstracted over time to become the alphabet they use today. Native Americans also communicated with symbols called pictographs. You can find a nice concise emoji history at the end of this Art With Jenny K  lesson. Symbols are used in today’s society on road signs, safety signs and even on laundry instruction clothing tags (which I have yet to figure out). So present day emoji are the hieroglyphs, calligraphy or pictographs for the computer age. We find historical symbols in art museums all the time. Emoji are just the next progression in symbol history. They are a universal language that can be understood by people from all over the world. Emoji help people clarify the emotion in a text. One might say we’ve evolved back into symbols.

So let’s take a closer look at the very first emoji. They look very different than the cute colorful emoji of today. Check out some of the differences here. They were based around a twelve by twelve grid made of pixels which reminded me a lot of  the ten by ten grids utilized in mathematics class. The first emoji were not unlike the first Pac Man and Mario Brothers video games. (I’m dating myself here!) Can your students figure out what these first emoji represent? You could give students a blank twelve by twelve grid and paper square tiles. Using the tiles, could your students reproduce one of the emoji symbols on the grid? Could they design their own in the twelve by twelve format? Could students figure out the area taken up by one particular emoji? Present day emoji symbols could be used to create traditional math pictographs like the apples found in this lesson.

A good portion of present day emoji are devoted to faces depicting emotions. Emotions can be expressed through facial expressions and through color. One of the first artists to show emotions this way was Pablo Picasso, during his Blue Period. Note the blue face and sad features in The Old Guitarist. Your students could create their own unique emoji using facial expressions and color like Room 9 Art!’s students did in this lesson. You could also use present day or original emoji to help summarize a reading assignment as Erin*tegration did here.

Before I close, I’d like to talk about a contemporary artist who used symbols in his paintings. Keith Haring started out drawing his symbols on black papers which covered old advertisements in the subways of NYC. People liked his images and soon he began making paintings and sculptures. Look at some of his symbols (babies, dogs, people, televisions, and hearts) here. Read about his life here. Find a nice symbol lesson, using Haring, here.

You don’t need to go all out for emojis like my very favorite vlogger, Cassie Stephens, does here , but I hope you learned something new today. And just maybe found new concepts to spice up your lessons. Have you ever used emoji in your teaching? I’d love to hear how. Simply highlight the title of this post, scroll down to the bottom and leave a comment.

Stop by again real soon!

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