I Will Not Stop at the Valley Brook
Symbolism by Pam Sanders
If not taken too literally, one can say that rules are meant to be broken and the frequent visitor to this site may have noticed that some, if not many, topics and artwork are hardly about Paintings.name's main theme: abstract art. In a sense these are just inconsistencies, but ever more often I feel the need to place abstract art in a more general context, which requires excursions to different styles.
Some art scholars divide art into four categories:
The first two are technical and conceptual, they refer to the artistic process itself and the artist's methodical intentions. Realism means not abstract. The artist wants to depict reality literally, as a clone of the real world. A structuralist sees the elements of which his artwork consists as connected on a fundamental technical level and tries to use these connections to serve his artistic means. An example is Piet Mondrian, who would spend up to a year rearranging his rectangles or lines such that they were "structurally connected". Romanticism refers to an aestetically idealistic temperament that an artist may have, which will, deliberately or not, characterize his art.
Symbolism is the theme of this page. Symbolism refers to phenomena that are beyond man's control, which may be unpleasant, such as death and anxiety, or the contrary, such as in romantic mysticism. Mysticism seems to be a constant in symbolism, a symbolist sees or suspects hidden worlds and things take on a double meaning: the tangible and the intangible, the worldly and the mystical.
My favorite example is Edvard Munch's Dance of Life painting. There the Sun casts it's reflection in the sea, which is straightforward enough, but at the same time one may see more into it, like a human figure. The face of the woman in red looks like the face of a dead person (Munch lost a sister at a young age) and the reflection/human figure rises above the company of people so as to ward off death, as a radiant symbol of life. Indeed, symbolist artworks often have a conjuring quality. They formulate the artists fears and contain elements or symbols to counter these fears. Death and fear are themes in many symbolist artworks but ever so often the symbolism refers to idealized mystical worlds, happier than reality.
This page is about Pam Sanders' painting I Will Not Stop at the Valley Brook not only because it's a fine artwork, but also because it's such a good example of a symbolist painting made by a contemporary artist. Elsewhere Pam says:
This painting started out as an illustration of a poem, but as I was painting it, it became a portrait of my son, who is over in Iraq. The three figures are supposed to be trees, but everyone sees muslim women. Also, the figure appears to be wearing desert camouflage.
Like people thinking they see the face of Elvis in clouds, the above-mentioned double interpretation doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. After all, for the most part, seeing is interpretation by the mind, especially in art, where there can be a thin line between reality and phantasy. In fact, many artists will tell you that his/her creative ideas have a deeper psychological background. Even an abstract artwork refers to concrete aspects of the artist's inner world, as someone's handwriting can reveal his/her personality. What characterizes symbolism is that the double interpretation is a central feature of the artwork, not just a byproduct.
In I will not stop at the Valley Brook, the central figure stands alone and vulnerable, like an upside-down obelisk with a head and shoulders. With the tenderness of a mother, Pam has mummified her son within a protective collage with eyes that try too see into the future. Of course this is just my interpretation but in symbolism that doesn't matter. Symbolism is about the tension between two worlds, the almost tangible presence of "the other side" and about time and timelessness.