(The Devil by Pamela Coleman Smith)
Can you read paintings and what is the point of imagery?
I’m a fan of the the Rider-Waite Tarot, first published in 1909, painted by Pamela Coleman Smith. The more you study the iconography of the 78 paintings the more the images reveal, stimulating imagination and informing awareness. I call them talking cards.
Paintings will talk to you if you care to listen. For me, the tarot is not so much an oracle but a stimulus to question one’s thinking, understand life and allow symbolism to take you beyond the confines of everyday reality.
In a pre-literate society art was a major form of communicating ideas. From cave paintings to medieval tapestries, stained glass windows to church frescoes, paintings for the population layered images coded with symbolism that played into the imagination and told a story.
These are images that invite contemplation, ask us to slow down to take time to try to understand an interweaving and unfolding of events and how they relate to us. Images that get you to think are worth their weight in gold, as churches knew! Symbols can be hard to decode, but with time and conversation a story unfolds. Great art stays with you.
Earlier societies were probably more visually literate than we are. We seem to be overstimulated with moving pictures and fast scrolling, creating a low attention span and an addiction to a quick visual fix….
”I don’t get it, I am confused”… would be a lazy, critical response to imagery that requires you to take time to look at it and have a conversation about what you see.
Art is not advertising. It doesn’t need you to get it immediately!
Art is not a fast moving image on the screen of life… seen…gone…. forgotten… never looked at again!
Interesting art invites you in and keeps you in – looking and asking questions – it is a talking point, a conversation stimulator and a conveyor of ideas. You want to go back and look again. The more you look, the more you see!
PS – look at the way Pamela Coleman Smith has painted The Devil – At first glance this a scary image, but she is telling us we have a choice! Notice how easily the people can remove the chains. The artist has painted them loose. She is inviting us to question our choices. Are we enslaved by the devil – the ego, others good opinion, our desires, our fear of facing our shadow, illusions etc etc or not! Are we enslaved in servitude or can we take off the shackles that bind? So many great questions are asked in this image. So many different ways to interpret it. This image is not telling us what to think, it is asking us to think! To see the bigger picture.
The devil is in the detail!
The Devil, from a Medieval Painting