REMINDERS OF HOME: A survey of the semiotic signs related to human dwelling-places

Abstract Introduction Early Shelter Color Pattern Meaning in Language Archetypes
Parts of Shelters Semiotics and Meaning Modern Usage Conclusions References Webliography Links

C O N C L U S I O N S:

Human culture has evolved a variety of ways to recognize and remember home. Cave-dwellers 30,000 years ago struggled with concerns similar to those facing modern apartment dwellers: food, clothing and shelter are still necessary and survival in the twenty first century, while considerably more comfortable than in Cro-Magnon times, is still challenging and demanding. Where is the safest place to find shelter? Look for a reliable sign.

If the gods (or environmental conditions) determine that an earthquake or hurricane will devour your house, then your house disappears. This is as true in the twenty-first century as it was in prehistory, whether you rely on the ancient magic of door gods or the latest architectural planning to protect your dwelling. There are some things which we cannot control, even with our newest deities of technical innovation.

Modern people survive by paying attention to the world outside of ourselves. Whether we live in a cave in southern France or an apartment in Los Angeles, as a species we share the same impulses, the same appetites and many of the same dreams of safety and contentment. The myths we all share, from Egypt, Greece, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Native-American religion, the Arthurian legends and all the rest, lead us to keep seeking the sanctuary of our real homes, the places we know we belong.

Modern homes in many cultures have become objects of utility, empty of any inherited or invented dreams or meanings. In addition to providing physical shelter, our shelter should also protect our spirits, traditions and dreams. The spaces we live in can shape our thoughts. Our thoughts can change the spaces we inhabit into homes we love and remember:

“Home is life in its most fundamental distillation. Seemingly humdrum occupations like making your bed in the morning and checking the doors at night link you with the passage of time and the rhythms of humanity. The rituals that surround waking and sleeping, as well as those related to eating, washing, worship, and family life, bear striking similarities wherever on earth your find them. These homespun habits are as human as having an opposing thumb. Although they are routinely disregarded, they deserve to be honored (Moran 18).”


(C) 2004 Tami Sutcliffe
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Arts in Art History
in the Graduate School of California State University,
Dominguez Hills, March 2004

"Seaside Souvenirs" by Marney Johnson: 32" x 34" - Oil on Masonite
"An Indian Corn Morning" by Marney Johnson: 32" x 48" - Oil on Masonite
"Japanese Juniper" by Marney Johnson: [central triptych panel] 34" x 36" - Oil on Masonite
All images courtesy of Marnie Johnson: Visit her work here:

Last updated 07.15.04