Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

The Ethereal Nature of Symbols

I recently found myself in Kansas City, a very cool town by any account, and one made cooler by  the fact that my sister lives there.  While most of my trip involved hanging out at her house, I did make a point to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has a very nice collection, and the added benefit of being free to the public.

Kerry James Marshall, American, b. 1955, b. Birmingham, AL Memento #5, 2003

Kerry James Marshall, American, b. 1955, b. Birmingham, AL
Memento #5, 2003

There is a piece in the Nelson that stops me dead in my tracks every time I see it–Memento #5 by Kerry James Marshall.  Part of the amazing power of this painting is its size, it’s 9’x13′ of unstretched canvas. Part of it is the shiny factor, the little rectangles covering the image are glitter, but mostly, this is as very powerful image.

This painting is full of symbols, some very unambiguous. And since I won’t be able to explain Marshall’s intent sufficiently, this is the write-up the Nelson has of this work:

“Memento #5 is the final painting in Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall’s Memento series, a five-part elegy to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The monochromatic painting on unstretched canvas depicts a black angel standing at the center of a living room and facing outward. Solemnly, the figure draws closed a glittery, silver curtain, symbolically concluding a decade of peaceful civil disobedience, courageous marches, visionary speeches, righteous legislation, explosive riots and tragic deaths. Behind the angel, at left and right, are the faces of four assassinated leaders: President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Each year of the tumultous decade is counted out between the glitter strands, and fragments of the word “Remember” are also visible. At the bottom of the painting, Marshall has written, “What a Time. What a Time.”

Except that’s not what I see.

I mean, I see the angel, the images of the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. I see the years, I see the text, and I certainly see the artist’s intent.

What I don’t see is a curtain. When I look at this painting, I see bars, like to a jail cell–and rather than pulling them closed, in my mind, the angel is bending them apart. Rather than being an elegy mourning the end of the civil rights movement, it’s a reminder, 50 years on, about how much more work there still is to do.

Which brings me back to the topic of symbols.

One of the things that I love about art is that the painting you see isn’t necessarily the painting the artist saw. The symbols morph and change for each person. Good art (and literature and music) has as many interpretations as it does viewers–and no one interpretation is better than any other.

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Eye, aye, I.

It’s been how long since I’ve blogged? Ahem.

Without going into too many details, the past few months have been challenging. Between family drama, having a nervous breakdown (I’m better now, thanks!) my computer giving up the ghost and not being able to replace it until I got a tax return…

Well, I’m back now.

I don’t really have reoccurring dreams. What I have is reoccurring dream settings. Not long ago, I found myself in one of these settings, an old Mormon pioneer Tabernacle.

So, for my non-Utah readers, let me explain. Temples and tabernacles are both places of worship, but the temple is only for members of the Church who meet certain moral requirements, like attending church regularly, not Blogdrinking  coffee or tea, and paying tithing. Tabernacles are meeting halls, similar to cathedrals, where anyone can come in. Often times, the doors of the tabernacles are open to the community at large, and host things like graduation, concerts, and inter-faith worship services.

Some of these tabernacles feature the Eye of Providence, or the all-seeing eye of God . This picture is from the St. George, Utah, tabernacle. The tabernacle in my dream also has an eye, and in this particular instance, the eye seemed to be the most important thing.

After this dream, I began to see eyes EVERYWHERE. I don’t mean in people and animals, I mean in graffiti, random shapes in nature, jewelry, etc. Every time I saw a circle or an oval with something in the middle, it became an eye. I picked  up new book, and in the first paragraph, the author describes being in the Pantheon in Rome, and looking out the Oculus at the sky.  Clearly this is a symbol I need to pay attention to.

As I pondered on eyes, the word itself struck me–namely, the three English homophones for eye. There’s eye, like the ocular organ, that allows us to see. There is I, as in myself, and there is aye, as in yes.

220px-Blue_eyes

Humans are primarily visual creatures. While the other senses are important, we generally observe our world through our eyes. And as such, the eye has taken on a mystical element. We have such expressions as “the eye is the window to the soul”. We say a clairvoyant has a “third eye”, and those who wish to do us harm cast an evil eye on us–the charms in the picture to the right are to ward off such evil.

So eyes equal sight, as well as magical powers. For me, it became a realization that I needed to really look, to see.

But what do I need to see. I. I need to see myself. I need to examine the “I”, the me. The eye symbolism was telling me how I needed to do it too–aye. Yes. Positive.

The symbols of the eye that were popping out all over the place are telling me that I need to see myself in a positive light.

This isn’t an easy thing to do. But it is important, and it is a thing that I’m working on.

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