Friday, May 25, 2012
Symbolism in European Painting History
After the "newness" of Impressionism wore off, many artists felt Art, and painting, should be used for even more than just capturing light and nature. They felt Art should "reveal the invisible" - Things like dreams, spiritual beliefs, and psychological states. As a reaction, many writers and artists of Europe and the US thought of themselves as "Symbolists" and they worked to stir-up visual representations of ideas, stories, emotions… even social and political issues.
Some symbolists used specific colors to symbolize things, like age, or fear - Edvard Munch often used red for the frightening psychological power of young women, green for men, nd black for the aged or dying… Pre-Raphaelites illustrated famous stories and old greek myths; Even before the formal French movement, Fransisco Goya was using Symbolism as he painted and etched grotesque facial features, or scary swarms of owls to represent evil, stupidity, or oppression in Spain during the Peninsular Wars of the early 1800s.
Famous Mexican muralist, José Clemente Orozco, a Symbolist painter, used his murals to promote the cause of peasants and workers through the Mexican Revolution. Symbolism is still used today, and has often served artists well as a means of communicating about sensitive political issues like government corruption and oppression.
If you see a painting from the early 1900s, and the mood or emotion in it almost overpowers the subject, it is probably a Symbolist painting. TMHS Painting students were asked to "reveal the invisible" and create a symbolist painting about something evocative in their own lives. The story behind the painting can remain a mystery, but the mood should be strong and clear. We worked with ideas of proportion and perspective, viewers line of sight, color and tone to trigger specific moods or feelings in our viewers.