Like astrology, alchemy, and other metaphysical subjects, art communicates through symbols. This symbolic language speaks to us through art’s physical qualities of color, form, composition, and medium; it also communicates through an art work’s content.
A skilled artist uses all these tools consciously to convey meaning. For example, an artist might choose to paint fish in watercolor rather than oil because fish swim in water; using tranquil colors might give a feeling of peace, while bright colors could make a painting more lively or even aggressive. The type of fish may carry symbolic meaning (such as an angelfish), as may its color or form.
At their best, the arts provide a powerful way to connect with our inner selves because they communicate in the symbolic language of the soul. In that case, form and content combine to express spiritual or mystical meaning. Although we may understand some of what the artist has conveyed at first glance, such works benefit from reflection and meditation in order to make out their deeper meaning and divine their true purpose.
In this way, great works of art offer us a sense of mystery and invite us to return again and again for contemplation. Over time, they reward us with new insights and touch our souls through beauty of form and meaning.