Symbol - symbolism

DEFINITION

An image or sign that represents something else, because of convention, association, or resemblance. Symbolism was an art movement focused on Symbols and is linked to a late 19th-century group of French poets led by Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rimbaud and Verlaine. They, in turn, were influential on French painters Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau and James Ensor. They never formed a cohesive group but shared a common interest in mystical and spiritual expression in their art and a rebellion against realism and impressionism that depicted the observable world. In other words Symbolists expressed ideas and not just descriptions of the real world. As a lasting influence, it resulted in a body of imaginative painting and foreshadowed Surrealism and Freudian dream paintings. Much of the subject matter of Symbolists came from mythology and religion "typically presented in the form of enigmatic images and allegorical scenes that evoke abstract ideas and emotions in the spectator who is drawn into a vague, fantastic world." (Reynolds) In American art, Symbolist Painting was a movement from 1890 to 1925 whereby artists expressed personal inner vision, idealization and fantasy. Exponents drew from a variety of religions and philosophies including the Theosophists led by Madam Blavatsky and the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. American Symbolist painters include William de Leftwich Dodge, Reginald Machell, Maxfield Parrish, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Arthur Mathews, Charles Rollo Peters, Rex Slinkard, Mabel Alvarez, Agnes Pelton, Gottardo Piazzoni, Kahlil Gabran, Pamela Colman Smith, John White Alexander, Elizabeth Alexander, and Magda Heuermann. Many Native American artists have employed Symbolism for centuries and today continue to reference their religion and traditions. Exemplary twentieth-century Indian symbolists include Fritz Scholder, Allan Houser, Fred Kabotie and Pablita Velarde. Sources: "Phaidon's Dictionary of Twentieth Century Art"; Kimberley Reynolds and Richard Seddon, "Illustrated Dictionary of Art Terms"; AskART database

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