“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex and vital.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Symbols convey meaning beyond what you see on the surface.
They both decorate and represent a concept that the artist has in mind.
Whether or not you intentionally use symbols in your work, you are still making a representation of something. Even the most realistic painting is still a painting of a scene. A realistic sculpture is representing a particular subject.
Reaching beyond the surface value of your artwork, you can build additional meaning by using symbols. Is the symbol you choose a realistic version imbued with a universal understanding? Or will your symbol have a meaning known only to you? You are the one that decides what each symbol means. You are in charge.
The meanings can change over time. Symbols shift and morph and may not have a clear meaning when chosen. They may not reveal their true essence until you yourself has shifted and morphed. Allow your intuition to guide the work if you feel stuck and do not know what symbols to choose. The interpretation does not need to be understood at first or even at all to be of value.
Symbolism allows communication without words. If I paint a tree, it can be a tree or it can represent all of nature. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.” I do not know how accurate that may be but I do know we can quickly access an image and give it meaning. We assign the image with a story that mirrors our reality as Oscar Wilde says.
Next time in the series, we are going to dive deeper into how to find your symbols and how to use them.