The Symbolism Art Movement

Art plays a powerful role in society. There is often a strong link between the art style of the day and the societal movement brought about by people. When we study history, we should look at the art movement of that period, because it represents the general sentiments of the people back then. It shows a perspective about how a society evolved. Take the symbolism art movement, for example. This movement happened around the late 1880s to the 1900s. It came after the impressionist paintings and began in Europe in the late 19th century. Symbolism influences almost every aspect of the arts. Its debut in the literary world began with writings from poets, philosophers, and from theatrical plays. After the movement took hold in literature, it spread to music, and then to the visual arts. The movement represented a reaction to what was natural and real.

planet earth symbol

Symbolism vs. Naturalism

People who are naturalists and realists see the world for what it is, along with all of its faults. They look at things with objectivity. For example, a red apple is a red apple and not interpreted any other way. Realists and naturalists only see what was ordinary, they do not imagine beyond the obvious. On the other hand, symbolists grasp beyond what was real and actual. They go for a deeper meaning, a deeper reality than what their eyes see on the surface. They imagine with their minds. They see from their dreams and what their subconscious mind may be telling them.

Effects of Symbolism

This movement did not last very long, but it had a big effect on European fine art in the 20th century. A strong reaction against materialism, symbolism artists felt that the rapid urbanization during the Victorian Era, robbed it of its soul.

1. Influences

Symbolism influenced what was called art nouveau. It preceded the surreal art movement. It had a particularly strong influence on German art in the 19th century. Symbolism also influenced famous artists like Marc Chagall, Whistler, and Joan Miro.

2. Perceptions

Symbolism is all about what is not plain. It is not based on fact. It is what an individual perceives it to be. Thus, a piece of art work can have many interpretations. Symbolists feel that absolute truths cannot be seen directly. It can only be obtained indirectly by the use of metaphoric images and forms that suggest a meaning, something that is symbolic. Symbolist painters get their inspiration from poetry and writings that were in that era. They also looked at legends, stories, fables and history. When these artists express themselves in their artwork, they usually use men in heroic roles, women, animals, landscapes and flowers, coupled with a meaning that is esoteric. They do not embrace what is natural, but opt for the myths, for ideals, for romance, and what is obscure. It is more about the intellect and less of reality.

3. Use of Stimulants

To attain the inner eye that goes beyond what is plainly visual, these artists sometimes indulge in substances that stimulate their minds, like drugs and alcohol. These substances release their inhibitions allowing their imaginations to take over. Among the popular subjects for the symbolism art movement were religious feelings, love, death, the occult, sin, diseases, and issues of the senses.