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Use of metaphors in art

Use of metaphors in art

Painting is thinking through images. And Art always springs out of a personal need of the artist to express themselves. Through their art practice the artist attempts to create images that have some personal meaning to them. To do this, Metaphors are of great help- to say or express things they would not have been able to say directly otherwise.

According to Rudolf Arnheim, the German writer, “understanding the symbolic meaning of art is the main task of a viewer who looks at a picture.”

A visual metaphor is always a mystery for a viewer. According to Virgil C. Aldrich, “all art is visual metaphor.” In Poetics, Aristotle writes, “the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius.” 

How is metaphor used in paintings or art? What is metaphorical thinking? 


To give an example for this would be artist Dhruvi Acharya’s soft sculptural installation, named, “What was, still is, but isn’t...”. The sculpture is based on what she calls “the experience of continuously living with the death of loved ones.” She invokes memories of her late husband, “A bed is symbolic of so many things. It is a place we sleep, rest, make love, recuperate and heal. It is also a place where the children come in the middle of the night to feel love, security and comfort. But for a while it became a place of extreme loneliness and brought about an acute awareness of Manish’s absence” 

The metaphor of the bed becomes a very personal symbol for the artist here. She expresses her deepest emotions through it. She places a very important part of her life, in front of her audience. Metaphors can trigger emotions that run deep within and can instill unexpected poetic insights in the viewers.


While talking about her use of metaphors in her works Rithika Merchant says, “I use the eye a lot because for me it’s very simple. Like the eye in the sky or an eye of this sort of supreme being looking down on you or in a very cliched way, eyes are windows to the soul. It’s the first thing you look at when you look at someone. Eye contact means everything when you meet someone and it is a symbol that has been used in so many ways in different mythological paintings or stories. I think we are actually very attracted to the eye. So that’s why I use it. I feel like it ties us to our past.”

About the ambivalence that is expressed in her work ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ Merchant says, “It illustrates this idea of humanity being at the cusp, where you can see these two different realities. If we do all the right things, we’ll end up in this sort of paradise—but we can so easily just end up the other way, literally falling over this cliff into nothingness. One of the figures on the edge of the waterfall is a small boatman without an oar—that’s kind of where we are. Collectively, we have made really bad choices but maybe we can be ingenious and find some way to reverse the damage.” 

Sometimes, artists use metaphors to express something they have lived or experienced. A good metaphor says a lot of things about a life lived. It is the artist’s personal emotional account of an event that has happened in his life. 


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