What is Symbolism and Its Characteristics (art and Literature)

It is known as symbolism at different forms of expression that use symbols to represent ideas and facts. In this sense, it is extremely important to relate the reality of the symbol, that is, to clearly relate a signifier and a determined meaning.

An example to understand the definition given above is: the cross is part of Christian symbolism.

On the other hand, the symbolism was the name given to the artistic movement that was born in France, at the end of the 19th century, and is characterized by suggesting ideas or evoking objects without naming them directly, through symbols and images.

characteristic of symbolism

  • It is related to mysticism and religiosity.
  • Interest in the unconscious and subconscious.
  • Subjectivism.
  • Attraction to the decadent elements of the human condition.
  • Emphasis on imagination and fantasy.

Symbolism in literature

In literature, symbolism was a poetic movement that originated in France at the end of the 19th century. It developed under four great French poets: Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Rimbaud.

Symbolism as its first objective was to relate the sensible world with the spiritual world, through images that expressed emotions. In addition, they wrote in a metaphorical and suggestive style, using synesthesia as an expressive resource, as well as musicality in their rhymes.

As for the theater and the novel, it did not have as much influence but it was still used in the novel “A Contrapelo”, by Joris-Karl Huysmans. For its part, in the theater the work of Axel, by Villiers, was the play most influenced by symbolism.

symbolism in art

In art, symbolism devalued the realistic vision of impressionism and represented the idea through symbols and ideas. With this idea, the artists did not paint seeing the objects but used the memory.

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The main themes represented by art were the result of the imagination and dream assumptions. Artistically, symbolism was continued by surrealism.

In the field of painting there are exponents such as: Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, Féliz Valloton, Edouard Vuillard, among others. In sculpture, Aristide Maillol, Adolf von Hildebrand, etc. stand out.

Parnassianism and symbolism

Parnassianism is a literary movement that emerged in the 19th century that aimed to create “perfect poetry”, valuing form, language and criticizing the sentimentality of Romanticism.

As such, this style is characterized by the creation of perfect rhyme, using cultured vocabulary and complex textual constructions. While symbolism used metaphors and expressive figures, such as alliteration and assonance.