Decoding Symbolism: The Secrets of Art Metaphors

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decoding-symbolism-the-secrets-of-art-metaphors

Writing a critical review on art belongs to the most widespread task within educational programs. Understandably, it is a favorite topic for the students with a humanitarian mindset, but what should those who are far from philosophical and abstract matters do? If you are among those students, we hope you find this article useful as a short guide on symbols, their meaning and flexibility in interpretation.

Mysterious language of symbols

The world of art is multifaceted and combines a lot of symbols and metaphors. However, there are a few basic groups of art symbols widely used in poetry, literature, painting, cinema, performances, installations or other styles of modern art.

Color hues

The meaning of color in art is difficult to overestimate. From the ancient time, people endowed colors with the deep metaphorical sense. Everyone immediately can admit black and white as a metaphorical embodiment of evil and good. Indeed, these hues’ interpretation goes far beyond mentioned ones. Black can be associated with grief, tragedy, danger, dirt or evil intent or aberration, etc.  White color has numerous meanings too from happiness, purity, innocence to divinity and origin.

Red hue is the most polysemic colors in the symbolical sense. Its multiple meaning is caused by contradictory human feelings. Thus, red can be decoded as fear or emotional strength, the ban, restriction, limitations or freedom, love and war, etc.

It is impossible not to mention yellow color which is associated with the sun, light, spiritual enlightenment.  At the same time, yellow, or gold hue, symbolizes the richness and philistinism. Like the previous one, green color emphasizes new life, start, growing, elevation and, in contradiction, the material interests or extreme indignation.

Time and seasons, elements of nature

The colors were the first and core point of the article as well as all the other symbols were strongly related to them. Thus, speaking about the event which has place in the daytime or nighttime, the author, most likely, hints on the white or black character of it or its further results.  Depicting the relations between people in the spring background, an artist demonstrates the progress, hope for future happiness, expectations which green color symbolizes.  Accenting attention on gray clouds, wind blowing is the way to show approaching changes, threat or high emotions of the protagonists.  Obviously, the metaphor of the sun means the light, source of highest wisdom and truth.

Not only color matters

Alongside with this, there are a lot of art symbols which are far from the coloristic interpretation. One of those is upon the table is the metaphor of a cave which was presented by the Greek philosopher Plato. To understand its meaning one can imagine oneself in the cave and analyses personal feelings.  It’s darkness and the limitation. Just after you feel this, you can develop idea considering the rest related symbolical context.

The same can be said about architecture elements as the art symbols gates, doors, bounds, chains, locks, and key, etc. They are interpreted according to their primary function in the real world. Thus, respectively the gates or door means threshold, the symbol of transition from one nature to the other, bounds – restrictions or dependence and key – the solution.

The author’s position

The primary task of artwork is transmitting an important social message of the author. Because of this, it is important not only know the meaning of the symbols he or she uses but catch an initial idea of them, decode the message. At first sight, it is impossible to do as well as each person sees the world, things, and phenomena, differently. Indeed, the authors emphasize core points of their ideas using various art instruments.  You should only know these tools to identify them quickly.

Cinema: The literature tools such as decorations, music, colors, intonations of the dialogues and nature help to succeed in implementing the author’s art task.  Producers often use the long or short take, repetition of shots to underline the things or phenomena they consider meaningful and important for decoding their idea.

Poetry: Studying poetic rhythm and tone is not occasionally across literature curriculum. They are primary poets’ instruments by means of which they accent readers’ attention on needed moments.  Poets also operate with assonance and alliteration techniques. It does not mean you should be closely familiar with all these tools to understand the poem. As a rule, the accents are seen with an unarmed eye because emotional influence is their central task.

There are a lot of tips which are widely used in all kinds of art. Exaggeration, bringing to the limit or excessiveness, contrasting belongs to such list. They are widely used for enhancing the symbols. Their effect can be easily observed in the fairy tales where imaginarily is bright and easy to understand. In the literature, poems, cinema or music they are less visible but works in the same way.

Pay attention also to the titles. They demonstrate the authors’ idea the most. For example, the title “The Picture of Dorian Gray” says the readers they should hold their attention on the picture instead of accenting other elements of context – all events are related to the PICTURE and should be analyzed from this point.  

Summing up art

You can see that the diversity in symbols interpretation gives you the field for creativity and adapting them to your personal point of view. Indeed, to succeed in writing high-quality art analysis, you should remember the following:

  1. Fantasy is good, but you should decode the author’s art message.
    “Pay attention to the art tips: decorations, music, intonations of the dialogues and nature, long or short take, repetition of shots, exaggeration, bringing to the limit, excessiveness, contrasting – all this is widely used for enhancing the symbols.” – experts from GradeScout underline the importance of decoding the author’s art message.
  2. Do not read the critical materials before you will form a personal impression. Note the symbols and their meaning as you see them and just after this read additional sources. It can help you to be critical and original.
  3. Symbolical meaning is strongly related to the culture because of this count the author’s biography and other related details.

Read or watch, listen and imagine, and feel – only in such way you will not only write the best art analysis but also enjoy the process and enrich your inner world.

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Petra Mainer

Petra Mainer

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Petra Mainer, the enthusiastic solopreneur and blogger, studies Information Management, and writes for different entertainment and digital blogs. You can follow her on Twitter @PetraMainer.

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