The Department of Fine Arts has just had its 60th birthday, and its departmental insignia has been around for 55 years. The simple logo has only one visible element—the silhouette of a well-rounded, chin-up and chest-out deer with branched antlers. But the meanings behind it are not simple at all.
The logo is derived from a deer-shaped pictorial seal of the Han Dynasty recorded in Selected Seals from the Shizhong Shanfang Studio, and gives the impression of antiquity, innocence and vitality. Deer is a symbol of docility, peace, agility, staunchness and gregariousness. According to Prof. Lee Yun-woon, former chair of the Department who wrote in the 1963 New Asia Life to elaborate on the then newly-designed badge, deer resonate well with the three pursuits of art—the true, the good and the beautiful:
‘Unlike cunning foxes or ferocious big cats, deer, which are not unlike devoted Taoists, range freely on the boundless plain and surrender themselves to nature. They have nimble limbs and a keen sense of smell and hearing, which alludes to a person’s ability to distinguish right from wrong, true from false, good from bad in his/her personal conduct and academic pursuit.’
Deer have been prominently portrayed since the beginning of human history. Red deer are widely depicted in cave art found throughout European caves, with some of the artwork dating from as early as 40,000 years ago. They are also objects of mythology for ancient cultures throughout the West. Stags (males) are usually believed to have supernatural size and power, while hinds (females) are often credited with befriending saints and kings and helping heroes in need. Deer are common mythical symbols in early Asian cultures as well. For example, in China, deer symbolize health and long life. A spotted deer is believed to accompany the god of longevity.
In the animal kingdom, the tame deer are often victims to bullies and predators, whereas in the human society, artists are no strangers to marginalization. However, both of them readily accept harsh realities with unremitting tenacity, and make a significant impact on human civilization. The mammal in the Department’s logo turns out to be a hidden message to the future artists.
This article was originally published in No. 511, Newsletter on Jan 2018.