A Primer of Symbolic Meaning


June 22, 2013 by smithartonline

“Symbolist: an artist who seeks to symbolize or suggest ideas or emotions by the objects represented, the colors used, etc.” – Dictionary.com

Woman and Kitsune

My work is associated with symbolism. It was my grandmother who raised me and introduced the wordplay of associating ideas and images. As I progressed through my education, the power of the symbol was reinforced. By my high school years, William Blake became a major influence. Being a student of the 60s, the writings of Blake were “hip,” (and boy was I hip) many writing assignments were devoted to his mystical literary works. I also had access to the Huntington Library, where one could always find Blake illustrations on display, often times entire exhibitions were mounted. I fear Mr. Blake’s popularity has waned in recent times, though there are still devoted followers out there. (Take a look at G.E. Gallas’ WordPress site, The Poet and the Flea)

The mysteries of petroglyphs continue to call to me. The use of symbols and their visual interactions wow me and certainly influence my work, though I honestly feel that the anonymous artist/religious intermediaries do a much better job. One does not need an outside source detailing the specifics of the symbols to appreciate their message on a personal level. In the case of my work, I want the viewer to bring a similar introspection to the visual dialogue. The result will be very different for every viewer.

Having said that the viewer does not need an explanation of symbolic content to understand my work, I am now offering an explanation of symbolic to understand my work. As I am fond of stating to my daughter, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

 I have some recurring symbols: stars, arrows, and certain figures. They all hold symbolic meaning for me, but that meaning may be totally different for you the viewer – and this is a good thing. The truth is, I assemble the symbols that seem to relate to a particular idea and then employ them as design elements. The pictures are not straight illustrations, but use various world tales and philosophies as the launching point.

In this particular piece, there is a kitsune and woman shape to the left, with an arch overhead. To the right is a bird shape. Green squares and red cross shapes play across the surface. Arrows appear both in straight and circular presentations. There is a silver leaf moon shape flanked by two cross star shapes on either side of the moon.

The woman and kitsune represent the same character: the shape shifter. In this work, I have reinforced this by adding a unifying arch over them both. It should be noted that the Japanese kisune is a messenger between this world and that of the gods. In a similar vein, the bird often appears in cultures around the world as a messenger to the gods.

The arrows suggest fate or movement from one understanding to another. Sometimes you will see two arrows in opposition, as in the field above the female figure. This indicates a choice of paths, a change. In the top area there is a circular arrow form. This suggests an idea of reincarnation or rebirth – progressive understanding. The squares and crosses are simple design elements (at least, as of this writing, they have yet to reveal themselves to me as anything more). The coloring is where the symbolism comes into play. The green color traditionally indicates rebirth, and the red presents the element of fire, or change (albeit sudden and drastic …I’ve been there, but don’t get me started).

Finally, the astronomical forms, the moon and cross star shapes, bring in a feeling of universality. This is also a hold over from my days working with astronomers and space enthusiasts. I note, and it is totally by happy accident, there appear to be some arboreal forms at the bottom of the work. I am happy they show up, but it was not through any planning on the part of the artist. This really is an example of “the painting already exists, it just needs the right technician to make it manifest”.

So there you have it – a primer on how to read a Smith.

Of course, knowing me, tomorrow all this will probably change.

Blog End two

One thought on “A Primer of Symbolic Meaning

  1. dlsmith671 says:

    Thanks for this helpful guidance, brother Steve. Awesome, indeed! I will share this around. Clearly, my biography from years ago missed some key influences – notably, Blake. Don

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