Black Swan Editions Visionary Art Book
Books Drawn from the Well of Myth

Visionary Art Books & Poetry in Santa Fe, NM

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Art BLOG - The FIVE Minute Art Salon

what is SYMBOLISM?

ordinary devine painting detailTHE ORDINARY DEVINE, pastel painting detailOne thing representing another to induce perhaps a feeling – or a thought – or an action – and so forth. The ultimate symbol system is language itself, words as stand-ins for things or states of being. A flag is a country, a color is an emotion, a logo is a corporation. The list is almost endless – it is almost easier to say what symbolism is not than what it is.

However if you are talking about art and poetry, Symbolism is the penultimate state of the Romantic Movement. This started in the early nineteenth century in Germany and spread like a fever across Europe. It's easy to see how this evolution could take place, to whit — Romanticism equals Thought plus Feeling – then unified through Imagination. Push this to more intense and personal levels of visionary perception and you have the Symbolist Movement of the 1880's, which
also spread like a fever. This was an international movement and its artists ring like bells; Bocklin, Segantini, Khnopff, Hodler, Vrubel, Burne-Jones, and on and, oh dear you may not have heard of these extraordinary men. Have you heard of Degas, Monet, Renoir, and so forth, they were all exact contemporaries and they knew each other. So what happened? The school of Paris prevailed and made them all go away. The Impressionists won. And remember despite revisionist blather to the contrary the Impressionists were a Realist movement. The Symbolists were abstract both
visually, conceptually and narratively and not generally located in Paris hence art politics trumps art. Doesn't it always?

visionary art painting detailart detail from THE ORDINARY DEVINE, pastel paiting The Symbolists were involved in narrative structures, a tableaux sometimes predictable but often profound Mikhail Vrubel for instance painted angels terrifying in their power and not the least sentimental. At their best they tackled the nature of incarnation, aspects of the divine, death, ecstasy, and tried to make it live in a narrative field that transcended commonplace storytelling. What both Symbolists and Impressionists were reacting to was the academies of every country that pushed a stale form of boilerplate history painting, or dead allegory without conviction or originality; also there was an oiliness of style that was often without personality.

The Symbolists did not have a predictable style, they tended to be Mavericks. They were allegorists, metaphysicians, metaphorists, color theorists, myth makers and storytellers of every stripe. They painted as gesturally as Van Gogh or as resolved as Van Eyck, some of them were as intense as the Book of Kells. They resisted easy categorization; the only thing they were not, is what Emile Zola demanded all artists be — Realists. They were emotional, extravagant, alchemists, magicians and holy sinners. A Burne-Jones for instance is as wildly different from Gustav Klimt as a cathedral is from a mosque. And yet they all have something in common – their eyes are fixed on the extraordinary — indeed the SYMBOLIC.


Deail from painting THE ORDINARY DEVINE, page 188
visionary art book. ILLUMINATIONS The Geography Of The Imagination
Steven Edwin Counsell, Artist/Author


Read More:
What is Myth?
What is Visionary Art?
What is Surrealism?