Figuring Out Allegory in Art
Figurative realism and allegory go hand in hand. Allegories — complex narratives built on layers of symbolism — are why works by Caravaggio, Titian, Bernini, Dürer and Vermeer carry resonance and remain intriguing centuries after they were created.
Even though the power of storytelling is well known, allegory isn’t always an easy sell in our contemporary world, which may explain why some artists shy away from it. The stories and references can seem esoteric and irrelevant.
And yet, the appeal of allegory for practicing visual artists is a long line of exemplary works to learn from. Paintings that utilize tight and effective compositions teem with visual interest and support complex narrative scenes.
Communicating Through Art
The successful use of allegory in contemporary artwork comes down to utilizing the history and points of reference that allegories provide. Meanwhile you have to give them contemporary appeal. For Patricia Watwood, an established contemporary artist — that means opening the lines of communication.
“A lot of artists make multifigure compositions that are somewhat inscrutable and illustrate private narratives,” says the Brooklyn-based artist. “I was more interested in finding a narrative that the public could know and respond to. Even if they had to Google the allegory itself, they could see how I presented the story in my oil paintings and start to understand what I was trying to communicate and what I value.”
Watwood has found an exploration of allegory helps her workshop students understand the importance of creating a composition that is well thought out.
“It’s very inspiring to them to create a complete environs, adding and taking away elements and props to create very different effects,” notes Watwood. “A setup can become classical or contemporary, depending on how you use certain elements to create a narrative story. It allows them to try compositions in different ways with different effects.”
When an artist embeds a complex allegory in a painting, he or she allows viewers to evaluate an artwork on a personal, art historical, philosophical and cultural level. That’s a rich mix; one that gives works of art staying power.
They are more than beautiful or well-executed objects. They are deliberately composed, thoughtful-wrought and smartly referential.
The Excitement of Telling Your Own Stories
There are hundreds of artists whose works reinterpret allegories that have been with us for centuries. Right now, it is our turn to take their deeply resonate inspirations to heart and bring our rich art historical past into the present.
Discover the unparalleled power of telling your own stories with Storytelling with Acrylics & Encaustic Digital Collection. You’ll hone your voice as you create characters, set a scene, develop a mood, and infuse your work with symbolism. Enjoy!