From Hieroglyphs to Emojis, Dr. Mark Van Stone Teaches the Meaning Behind Pictures

Dr. Mark Van Stone, a Southwestern College art history professor, sits in his office with a sculpture of the Mayan lord Pakal.
Dr. Mark Van Stone, a Southwestern College art history professor, sits in his office with a sculpture of the Mayan lord Pakal.

From ancient hieroglyphic writing, to the modern emojis that highlight our smartphones today, human beings have always tried to communicate through pictures. Dr. Mark Van Stone, a Southwestern College professor of art history, has studied them all. He has dedicated much of his life to understanding the patterns and similarities of writing throughout history.

“I developed a love for calligraphy because I couldn’t draw faces,” said Van Stone. “The history of writing is always evolving, and emojis are adding tone of voice and gestures, which is how we speak.”

His specialty is Maya art, hieroglyphs and calligraphy. After studying calligraphy and writing from around the world, he became enamored with the Maya after he realized there was a great ancient civilization that had existed on this continent.

When he first came to Southwestern College, Van Stone noticed the Maya symbols around the campus and instantly felt at home. Now, Van Stone has been a professor here for more than 16 years. He strives to pass on his extensive knowledge of art history to his students.

“Being passionate about your subject makes you a better teacher,” he said. “I talk about what I love and I hope that I communicate that. There are always some students that are touched by that and (art history) becomes their new favorite subject.”

In addition to his work as an instructor, Van Stone is an avid artist. He designed the Maya glyphs on the new buildings including the library and the new wellness complex. The new buildings proudly display the Maya glyphs and are some of the most visible aspects of the entire campus.

On May 19 Dr. Van Stone will have the opportunity to reach more than his normal audience of students. He will be one of 22 presenters at the very first TEDxChula Vista event which will be held at Southwestern College in the Mayan Hall theatre.

TedxChula Vista has come a long way, and is more than two years in the making. The event was organized by Antwon Lincoln, the instructional technology coordinator for the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

“We’re bringing a global event to Chula Vista,” Lincoln said. “The goal is to present an opportunity to the community to showcase ideas on a TED stage.”

Van Stone has designed hieroglyphs for every new building on campus including the Wellness & Aquatics Complex.

The theme of the event is “shift into awareness” and Van Stone will be talking about his favorite subject: calligraphy and writing. Specifically, he will be talking about how emojis are changing how we communicate.

“Emojis lack phonetics, they’re all about emotions and the message,” he said. “An emoji adds a tone of voice that’s missing from writing. Writing has been evolving for centuries and each step makes it better.”