So...today I've been thinking about symbols. My art class got into a debate, led by me and my partner, as to whether or not symbols have a place in art. I argued that the Reformation began a slow process of losing our visual vocabulary. It used to be that any person could see a painting, or stained glass window, or sculpture, and through an understanding of the symbols, understand what the artist was trying to say. In the iconoclasm of extreme branches of the Reformation, these symbols began to be wiped out. Today, great crowds of people can go to the Getty museum, and have to listen to an audioguide to understand even the most basic symbols. Some members of my class argued that when most people were illiterate, symbols were needed(this I will agree with), but now that most people can read, symbols are no longer needed.
1. Just because symbols are no longer "needed" in the strict sense, this does is no way mean that symbols can be abandoned. Some of them were given us by God Himself, and we desert those symbols at our own peril.
2. Is today's society really literate? Watch any group of students researching for a project: which will they rather do, read academic works on their subject, or watch a video about it? We are highly visual, and in many ways less literate than we were a few centuries ago.
3. Apart from being needed, symbols are beautiful and powerful. Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words really knew what he was talking about. Which is more powerful, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, or a book about how when we try to get something we want, the more we focus on it, the more it slips away from us? Would you rather read a book about the problem of evil and how good battles evil, or would you rather read Lord of the Rings? Which will stick with you longer?
Symbols are necessary, beautiful, and, above all, immensely powerful. We give them up to our own impovershment. I grieve that artists no longer care to use them.
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