Prf. David Bennett
Symbolism in Visual Art
I considered talking about symbolism in art for a various of reasons. Just as in literature, those who express themselves through media such as paint, clay or even architecture often use symbols to further their own artistic expression. Dream symbols and color symbolism are just two examples. Some may think all symbolic art is abstract but that’s not always true. Beginning with cave drawings and progressing through today, artists continue to think about the meaning of their work using symbols.
A symbol is something that stands for something else. For example, think about symbols in our culture. America chose the eagle as its symbol. The U.S. flag uses the colors red, white and blue to stand for valor, purity and justice. Art is about artistic expression. It isn’t usually trying to copy nature as a photograph would. However, even in photography the artist can frame, compose and develop the photo in such a way as to add layers of interest and meaning to the image.
In the book Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art by James Hall and Chris Pleuston it covered the topic of symbolism very well. In the book’s introduction, Hall and Pleuston explained that symbolic images mean different things to different people. And, how symbolic meaning can change over time. Some examples of symbolism can be the bee (symbol of industry, purity, immortality), Flames (Symbolizes god or purification) and the Apple (In Western art this was often used as a symbol of the fall from the garden of Eden, in China the apple blossom denotes female beauty). “Symbols in art function at many diverse levels according to the beliefs and social customs that inspire the artist,” the authors said.
One area where symbols take on different meaning depending on culture is in color symbolism. Helen Blackburn explained some basics of Western interpretations of color in her May 29, 2015, article, “Color Symbolism in Art”. In Western culture, common color symbols show Red means (excitement, energy, passion), Yellow (joy, happiness, optimism) Blue (peace, cold, and harmony) White (purity or bridal color). Asian cultures have different interpretations for colors. In the article, “Symbolism of Colors, Associations of The Five Elements in Chinese Belief and Feng Shui,” the writers defined the meanings of colors in Chinese culture which had differences and similarities as in Western culture. Red is (bridal color, luck, celebration), Yellow (nourishing and supporting), Blue (health, trust, and calmness) and White (mourning and death). Artists use color and symbolic imagery to give their works added meaning.
Artists present their own work for anyone to interpret...