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Art History Essay Question

Art History Essay
Question: Analyse the visual signs and symbols of your chosen work of art, interpreting how they signify deeper meanings or content. Support with historic evidence from your research.
Visual signs and symbols are evident in many pieces of art work, a lot of these painting all have a valuable meaning or try to get a message across to the audience/viewers. Signs and Symbols are said to be visual languages, one has a different meaning to the other. Signs can have meaningful combinations it is based on the type message the artist is trying to get across to the audience or there is something in the piece of work that explains what is going on. On the other hand, Symbols can represent feelings which might be fear, death, sadness, depending on the piece of art work. Artists include symbols in their work as they have their own beliefs and their work can be personal and they may have their own imaginary dream world and to get that message across they use symbols. My main objective is to speak about signs and symbols and how they are present in a piece of art work that I have chosen as well as explaining how it signifies deeper meaning or content.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas,349cm x 776 cm, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain.

This painting was done by Picasso in his home which is in Paris. It represents the Spanish civil war which had taken place in Guernica.Colours used in this painting are black and white, it includes many different figures. There is people and animals suffering and being violently hurt, it is also very crowded as each painting is very close to one another and some overlap. The Guernica is known to represent surrealism and symbolism. Immediately we understand the suffering that is happening in this work of art as there is people reaching for help, on the left-hand side a woman is in treacherous pain as she holds her child in her arms, Picasso also includes animals in the painting which might have been used during the war or may represent a sign or symbol.

Signs: In this painting there are a variety of signs. On the right-hand side, a woman is reaching up for help as she is trapped in a fire, there is also a white square on the black background which may represent a way out of the misery she is going through or the end of her life. The emotions on the characters faces and reactions is what makes this painting a lot more understanding. A bull is placed on the left-hand side of the painting, this signifies the brutality and darkness of the event that is happening. Under the bull a woman is holding her dead child as her head is facing towards the sky, you can see that the woman’s eye is in the shape of a tear which shows sadness and grief. In my opinion I think Picasso makes it difficult for the audience to notice the signs and symbols in his work, this is understanding because they all seem to have a real and deeper meaning. There is a lot of expression shown, ‘Most direct, perhaps, are the contorted expressions of the women, suffering physical agony and mental anguish. “You can see that the kinds of deformation are Picasso’s devices to register pain and suffering,” Wagner explains. The artist conveys their desperation through sharp, pointed tongues; and sorrow through tear-shaped eyes’
There is a bulb placed at the top of the painting and in Spanish the word bulb-bombilla means bomb, representing the bombing that took place in Guernica. On the ground you can see a horse collapsed and wounded, you can only make out the head of the horse as it sticks out. It is then overlapped with other images; these images represent grief and pain as the women is trying to walk as she holds her hand over her bleeding leg struggling to walk.

Symbols:
‘Symbols are best known as a means of facilitating the representation of subjects that do not lend themselves to mimesis, symbols have other functions also, such of those, embellishment, emphasis, commanding respect and so on, A religious icon is not only the symbolic representation of an imaginary being but also an object that looks upon the faithful, commands respect and welcomes salutations.’ Picasso includes many signs in his painting, but he includes many symbols also. The light bulb placed at the top of the painting symbolised multiple aspects. One was an eye which was thought to be gods eye which looked over the people who were in danger and the destruction that was taking place in the war, another was a symbol of technological advancement as it was placed right beside an oil lamp. The woman who I spoke about earlier who holds the child in her hands as she desperately pleads for help, resembles the classic catholic image of the virgin child. Picasso includes religion to represent the role that the women plays in the painting.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas,349cm x 776 cm, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain.
This Image above is a close-up view of the light bulb that looks like an eye as we mentioned above. If you go into greater detail in the painting you will see several hidden symbols, if you look at the man’s hand who lays on the ground and reaches his hand above his head you will notice that his hand is holding a flower, a white poppy flower resembles hope, peace and remembers people who may have died at war. Close to the horse is a bird which symbolizes the holy spirit beginning to break past any darkness or events around it and bring peace to the near future. Lastly, the oil lamp plays a big factor in this painting many people think it symbolizes different things but in my opinion I think it’s a source of light that brightens up the scene in the painting ,the flame is strong enough to bring a sense of spirituality and also a feeling of hope for the weak, fainthearted people and animals In the painting. This might be why the injured women below looks towards the lamp.

Another painting that Pablo Picasso completed was called ‘The Weeping Women.’

Pablo Picasso, (1881-1973), The Weeping Women, 1937, Oil paint on canvas, 847 x 739 x 86, Tate, Modern London.
Picasso designed this image to show pain and fear on the women’s face. Infact, he uses a women’s face who is named Dora Maar. Picasso describes her to ‘always be weeping’. Picasso admired Dora they both shared common interests and seemed to work well together.
”She was one of his most influential models, sitting for a number of now-famous portraits that most frequently show her in distress. “For me she’s the weeping woman,” Picasso said. “For years I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure, either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was a deep reality, not a superficial one.”

Her dark eyes in the painting resembles Picasso’s reaction to seeing images of the bombing in many newspapers of the war in Guernica. The type of design Picasso uses in ‘The weeping women’ is similar to ‘Guernica’, As you can see she holds a handkerchief in her hand which symbolizes a piece of glass this may represent how she is feeling or give us a sense of the pain she is going through. There are also signs and symbols recognisable in this painting.

From studying Pablo Picassos art work, it helped me understand how he expresses his work as an artist, He gets his message across by using signs and symbols which is a great skill of his. ‘What had made Picasso different from other artists of his time was that his art not only reflected his emotions in his own personal life, but the outside world as well. He was not afraid to push the boundaries of the human mind from issues such as war to peace.’ In his painting ‘Guernica’ it is evident that he looks at issues from the Spanish civil war and adds detail to his painting describing the fear, pain and torture the people and animals went through. Picasso uses many signs and symbols in his work they signify great meaning, in my opinion some are difficult to make out but the further you look into his work and take time to understand it the more amazed you will become and fascinated by how he interpret these signs and symbols into his painting so brilliantly. Picasso has a lot to offer and relates his paintings back to other paintings too for example ‘The weeping women’ and the ‘Guernica’ relate to one another.