Do You Have Your Own Personal Symbolism?

11 Dec 2012

When you think about it, you probably have a personal symbolism—objects or colors or landscape features that hold special meaning for you. These ideas can develop from our personal experiences, our culture, or books we've read.

In the comic book realm, straightforward symbolism is expected, but in fine art personal symbolism can lead to more creative narratives. (Thor by Lee Oaks, 2010)
In the comic book realm, straightforward symbolism
is expected, but in fine art personal symbolism can
lead to more creative narratives.
(Thor by Lee Oaks, 2010)
For example, I associate a rich-colored green with well-being and positivity. And in my mind, drums mean movement and latent power. These are my personal ideas, and because of that they can be a powerful source for narrative. I point out the existence of personal symbolism because sometimes—in a lot of fantasy-art pictures, for example—symbolism tends to be less personal and more general and widely recognizable.

We all recognize fantasy images of superheroes, for instance, because they are the figures who are biggest, tallest, and strongest...and because they often wear a cape. These sorts of recognizable symbols have their place, but I think artists of fantasy pictures often do their work a disservice by being too didactic with their symbolism.

Pastel colors can convey a lightheartedness, as in this acrylic painting by John Harrell, titled Pastel Trolley.
Pastel colors can convey a lightheartedness, as in this
acrylic painting by John Harrell, titled Pastel Trolley.

But when you take inspiration from your own personal symbolism (a superhero in my mind could easily be represented by objects of teaching—a ruler, desk, or book), there is character and uniqueness to the choices you make, which put your work in a category all its own. So next time you are thinking of how to convey an idea or narrative in your work, reflect on symbols that hold a personal meaning, and I think you'll find the outcome rewarding and meaningful for you and your viewers.

Personal symbolism can come into play no matter what kind of painting or drawing you create, but most of all it raises our awareness about the many things that objects, colors, and textures can communicate to viewers, which every artist should try to be aware of. In the DVD Acrylic Painting: Scenes From the City, I discovered that using unexpected colors in a painting or depicting figures in an otherwise empty cityscape can have a great deal of impact. It's up to us to decide what our personal symbols are and how to apply them to get the effects we want in our artwork. John K. Harrell does that to great effect in Acrylic Painting: Scenes From the City, and it is a lesson worth learning. And because today is a very special day—12.12.12—we are offering 12 products for $12.12, including Scenes From the City. Enjoy!


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