Thematic Painting Assignment (Symbolism and Metaphor Assignment TEXT)

Painting with Symbolic/Metaphorical Content

Assignment will be worked on in class and it is expected that the assignment should be worked on outside of class as well.

Large Painting (3 x 4 feet) with numerous small studies/preliminary work. Note half a letter grade will be lost if studies are not integrated into the process of the work. This means not doing studies at the completion of the assignment. As in previous assignments the “Thematic Assignment” will continue with the formal investigation of various painting materials, thick applications of paint to thin glazes, composition, mark making, forms, space and color. Unlike previous assignments this Thematic Assignment places more emphasis on developing and expanding themes that will involve choosing symbols, metaphors, allegories, narratives, icons, signifiers, myths or combining some of these choices. Concept building and expanding thematic layers of meaning in this assignment will become an essential part of the working process.

Primarily painting mediums are required for this assignment to depict an advanced level of symbolic and or metaphorical subject matter (see below points 1 to 8 under Thematic Subject Matter heading). Other non-traditional materials may be used in addition to the primary use of painting materials. You also have the option of developing collage and or using text as a partial component in the work as long as the objectives are demonstrated.

Thematic Subject Matter (forms and spaces):
1) Subject matter should consist of as many forms as possible, referencing: figure(s), objects, landscape and or interiors/exteriors of architectural settings.
2) Space should vary from deep to shallow with forms having varying degrees of volume to flatness.
3) Avoid literal or conventional methods to depict shallow and deep spaces. Spaces and forms can be representational, fragmented, collaged, abstracted, or a combination, but consider that each choice of space will convey specific thematic content.
4) Subject matter does not have to be obvious in terms of conveying a direct narrative but should have as many layers of meaning (symbolism) as possible. Also perhaps your mixing of colour or type of coloured mediums could be representative of something in the painting (symbolism of colour).
5) This Thematic assignment will require research or at least demonstrate an understanding of themes from art historical and contemporary art contexts.

Points 6) 7) and 8) are optional:
6) Have part of your painting allude to a cultural critique addressing an issue or a combination of issues such as: economic class, power, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity.
7) You may want to consider the possible symbolic content of the surface(s) you are drawing on (for example: metal, wood, fabric, plastic, glass, collaged newspapers) or the occasional coloured object you may place on the surface.
8) There is also the option of moving away from a rectangular picture, consider that the work’s overall shape can be part of the thematic content.

Steps of Process for Thematic Painting Assignment:
Once again avoid having every formal and conceptual (thematic) component of your drawing pre-planned or “figured out” before you begin. This will eventually suffocate any desire to work, because it is impossible to pre-plan every step in the process and get positive results. Embrace a process that is intuitive and a process that will evolve out of some very basic or simple initial ideas. As one example you may start with a variety of clichéd thematic imagery anticipating that those initial ideas will eventually be expanded into a more sophisticated type of thematic content.

If you are stuck with no ideas it is best to immediately start working with some general symbols or metaphors and some random subject matter. Just start with some random images to initiate ideas. Do not wait for ideas to come into your thoughts. Sometimes you have to start with a weak idea and build from that initial idea. It is important just to continue drawing random images in your preliminary works and to continuously gather as many images as possible. This random imagery will eventually lead to ideas, which will then evolve into a clearer concept as you progressively work through the editing process.

*** Prepare yourself with a large variety of potential images and materials to work from, and mentally prepare yourself for risk taking, reworking, re-editing, researching, applying criticism and generally experimenting with conviction, and also have materials available for any small preliminary works and you will have a very successful work or series.

Basic Definitions:

Definitions of Symbolism:
1. The use of symbols to invest things with a representative meaning or to represent something abstract by something concrete
2. The artistic method of revealing ideas or truths through the use of symbols
3. A 19th century literary and artistic movement that sought to evoke, rather than describe, ideas or feelings through the use of symbolic images
4. The belief that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist are symbols and not literally the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. (Other significant spiritual or religious icons could apply).

Definitions of Metaphor:
1. The application of a word or phrase to somebody or something that is not meant literally but to make a comparison, for example, saying that somebody is a snake.
2. All language that involves figures of speech or symbolism and does not literally represent real things.
3. One thing used or considered to represent another.

Definitions of Allegory:
1. A work in which the characters and events are to be understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning.
2. The symbolic expression of a deeper meaning through a story or scene acted out by human, animal, or mythical characters

Themes in Relation to Art History and Contemporary Art:
This Thematic assignment will require research or at least demonstrate an understanding of themes from art historical and contemporary art contexts.

Many historical art movements have thematic content that have or partly include layers of symbolism, metaphor, allegory, narrative  iconography, motifs, narrative and or mythology. This thematic content occurs in Western and Eastern cultures, research and consider ideas from both cultures for this assignment.

As well many contemporary artists convey ideas about their work through choices of materials and subject matter in their work. Consider the manner in the way an artist uses images and subject matter. As well, the way the material’s are used and manipulated in any given work will play a part in conveying thematic content to the viewer. Many contemporary artists use thematic content that involves symbolism, metaphor, allegory, iconography, motifs, narrative and or mythology. Some possible contemporary themes (as discussed last term) include ideas relating to economic class, the world economy, the environment, mass media and technology, power, gender (feminism), sexuality, identity, or ethnicity (post-colonial critique). Develop any of these potential themes (or other themes not listed) that are visually and formally poetic, thematically/conceptually layered, innovative, and generally not a cliché visually and conceptually.

As part of your research utilize some of the ideas presented in the Contemporary Art Presentations by  classmates, the optional reading list and texts and journals at the Fine Arts/Architecture Library for further information.

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