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GALLERY 2010/2011

critical writing

Love is Conflict

About work

An analysis of visual artifacts as they relate to love and conflict in the context of semiotic and memetic interpretation.

Love, Conflict, Sign, Longevity, Fecundity and Fidelity

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Editors comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

“Love Is Conflict” provides a lot to think about. Sarah ably explains the semiotics of the heart as symbol, and explores what turns a sign into a meme in an easily comprehensible way. It is fascinating to think that the heart has been a symbol, perhaps the key symbol, of life for 25,000 years, and that it has evolved to its present shape by putting facing “2s” together. The essay makes me think further about the longevity and universality of certain signs, and their ability to connect different ideas. The sign of life does not necessarily need to also be the symbol of love. Why has it attained this significance? Does the power of the heart as a sign and meme come from our embodied experience? The heart is seen as the source of activity in life because of its circulatory effort, and the expression of the intense emotion of love because of the physical reaction we get, the feeling in our chests, when experiencing love. Our hearts beat faster, our breathing changes. Embodied experience constantly reinforces the idea, and the feeling, that the heart guides our emotions. (Yes, we can also get dizzy and our thoughts can be obsessed, which connects love to the brain, but this seems a bit more ethereal and abstract than what happens around our heart.) Cultural understandings can be separated from embodied experience, but those that do have that connection may have a big advantage in maintaining their relevance and evocative power.

Of course, the heart does not just respond physically to feelings of love. It also responds to anger and fear, with some of the same symptoms – the heart beats faster, breathing changes. When love is mixed with fear or anger, we get heartache, a multiplication of them all. Having our heart “pierced,” as in the tarot card or Cupid’s arrow, shows the dual nature of the vulnerability of the heart; when we let someone in, we are enriched yet also threatened by the loss of individual agency. The heart is the nexus for our emotional and physical vulnerability, which provides our greatest joys of personal connection, and our greatest fears of loss. And that apparently never changes.

As for areas of further exploration: you could investigate other signs of love and the heart in non-European cultures, to compare their nuances to what you have found; or examine other long-standing memes to explore the question of the connection of signs to embodied experience. Or look at other signs that have attained double status as primary means we have for communicating different ideas, as with the heart’s centrality to senses of both life and love.

View other works commented by Daniel Marcus  ››

This essay offers a methodologically interesting semiotic approach to the theme of love, conflict, and imagination, combined with elements of cultural history, and as implemented through an analysis of three specific examples: the heart as a symbol, the Three of Swords in the Tarot pack, and the heart with an arrow through it. The essay is appropriate to the category, field, and subfield into which it was entered.
There is, however, some unnecessary repetition in the discussion of the heart with an arrow through it. In addition, because of the somewhat abrupt nature of its conclusion, some of the effectiveness of the essay as a whole is lost.
Further avenues of research to consider and through which to substantiate the essay’s main hypothesis (love is conflict rather than affection and attachment), could entail gathering and discussing even more historical and (cross)cultural visual examples of love as conflict, looking in more detail at one specific domain in which the current examples appear (Games? Commercialised occasions such as Valentine’s day? Tattoo culture?) and noting their further contradictions as well tackling those possible examples revealed by additional research that initially give the impression of resisting the validity of the main hypothesis itself.

View other works commented by Nikolai Jeffs  ››

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Entry details


Love is Conflict

Concept author(s)

Sarah Dugan

Concept author year(s) of birth




Competition category

critical writing

Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

Visual Communications Design, Alberta College of Art & Design