What is an Icon? And what color is Venus?
Well, yes and no! If you take a look at all nine of our planet drawings, you’ll see each planet image is actually an artistic rendering. None of our planet paintings are realistic.
Instead, each planet drawing is an icon. An icon is an abstract representation that carries cultural meaning. Icons are more symbolic that accurate. They help you create a mental shortcut for your brain to quickly access knowledge.
To create an icon, an artist will often choose to exaggerate a defining feature of whatever it is they want to represent. That’s what Uncle Goose did when creating this block set.
For example, look at the drawing of the Earth block. Most geography students would be quick to recognize that the drawings of the continents of Africa, North America, and South America aren’t exactly precise!
And yet, most people quickly recognize this block as a depiction of Planet Earth. That’s because a defining characteristic of our world is its vast ocean of blue.
When you view the Earth block with that cultural knowledge, you recognize it instantly. In fact, you will probably recognize any abstract drawing of a circle with roughly lined continents as “Planet Earth.”
Your Uncle Goose chose to exaggerate the characteristics of the other planets to develop their iconography. For Saturn, you’ll see its famous rings. Jupiter has a Great Red Spot: Neptune has its Great Dark spot.
Mars is the Red Planet. And Pluto has its heart shaped Tombaugh Regio.
Mercury is a a small and speedy gray rock. The methane on the ice giant Uranus makes it appear blue.
But what about Venus? What makes it stand out?
For centuries, Venus was a mystery. That’s because it’s shrouded from view in thick, carbon dioxide clouds.
Those clouds informed the iconography of Venus. When people thought of Venus, they liked to think of it as hot and green underneath those clouds.
Some people even liked to imagine that people must live on of Venus! They wanted to believe that beneath those clouds, Venus was a tropical paradise.
But thanks to space exploration, we now know no human could live on the surface of Venus. It’s far too hot and hostile.
Those carbon dioxide clouds on Venus lock in sulfur dioxide. This creates a greenhouse effect. It’s almost always cloudy and raining hot acid on the surface Venus.
From earth, Venus can look white or yellow to human eyes. But photos from near the surface of the planet reveal that beneath those layers of clouds and acid rain, the surface of Venus is more brown, tan, gray, and red.
In developing the iconography for Venus, your Uncle Goose chose not to go with the more traditional depiction of green, yellow, or white. Instead, we decided to develop a new iconography for Venus. We went with layers of brown, gray, and tan.
This is what artists do. We look at our surroundings, and make artistic choices. We read, research, and let what we’ve learned inform our choices.
What do you think of when you think of Venus? Are you more of a traditionalist? If so, you might tend to think of Venus as green and tropical. You might even believe that people live there!
Or do you have a more modern sensibility? If so, you might appreciate an iconography update to help shape and inform your mental models.
Whether you prefer a more traditional or modern approach, the blocks still offer an opportunity to have a hearty discussion. Certainly, you can use them to talk about the defining characteristics of planets.
And you can also use the planet blocks to talk about art, history, and iconography! Enjoy learning with Uncle Goose planet blocks!