Talking in Code: Symbolism in Contemporary Painting

Talking in Code: Symbolism in Contemporary Painting

At its core, Symbolism is all about finding ways to transmit ideas with a sense of intensity and purity that would be degraded by common language. The original Symbolist art movement was a period in 19th century European art where artists and writers within the movement sought to represent philosophical or ideological concepts through the use of metaphors and symbols. Symbolism laid the groundwork for the explosion of contemporary art that began in the 1960s by encouraging artists to develop their own personal visual languages. Just like the historical Symbolists, much of the Symbolist-influenced contemporary work was developed around intensely thoughtful theoretical framework and intended to represent ideas and concepts that many artists regarded as absolute truths.

Talking in Code: Symbolism in Contemporary Painting presents a selection of works from Rockford Art Museum’s Permanent Collection which contain traces of the Symbolist origins of contemporary painting and follow in the tradition of using allegory, metaphor, and a mysterious lexicon of substitution codes to draw us deep into the heart of each artist’s secret world. Works of art that communicate their meanings through symbols often leave us with more questions than answers, but the mystery and uncertainty conjured by these works should be seen as less of a barrier and much more as an invitation to investigate, ask questions, and draw your own conclusions.


Talking in Code: Symbolism in Contemporary Painting is curated by Rockford Art Museum Collections Curator Frances Downey.

CATEGORY / Painting

On View

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