Thoughts on "Searching Beneath the Surface"

This week’s reading covered two topics: symbols and truthfulness. Though both chapters were really interesting I’d like to focus on symbolism. Some of what we had discussed in class reminded me of my final post for Grace & Necessity. If you’d like to read it you can do so here

In class we talked briefly about Christian symbols in art and I was interested in diving deeper into this topic to uncover one of the more obscure symbols we may come across. Flipping through the Bestiary of Christ, one that really stood out to me was the weasel. Though we didn’t talk about this specific one in class, I thought it would be an interesting one to learn more about. Initially I thought it might be a symbol for something bad, but it is actually a symbol for the perfect disciple (148, Bestiary). The weasel is a small carnivore that can “win combats with much bigger animals than itself” (147). An expression that has been tied to the weasel is “The weasel conceives through the war and gives birth through the mouth.” This can be reflected in a disciple who listens to the word of God and then becomes a teacher of more disciples. A type of weasel called the ermine actually changes colors with the seasons and is one of the symbols of the Resurrection. The ermine is brown in the summer and in the winter turns as white as snow. 

In Searching beneath the Surface, Stewart wrote about language and symbols. Much of what he wrote about involved symbols he has been using in his own work. While it was interesting to see what these meant for him, I was really more interested in more universal symbols. Personal symbols can be great but unless the artist has the opportunity to educate their audience, the meaning may be lost or confused. Stewart wrote, “The idea that the mere repetition of an object creates an effective symbol is perhaps too simplistic. At some level there needs to exist a shared understanding between the artist and the viewer of the relationship of the image and its intended content or message,” (143). Without this shared understanding meaning could be lost. On the other hand, “just incorporating a well-thought out symbol in a painting doesn’t make the painting successful,” (145). 

In using symbols in artwork, there often needs to be a stage of experimentation and exploration to find the most fitting symbol. Stewart wrote, “The most obvious solution to a problem isn’t always the most interesting. In this line of thinking, much could be said in favor of the struggle to stretch oneself to new dimensions of creativity, rather than doing what comes most easily,” (143). This is so true! And its a message that we constantly hear from professors. Anyone who has taken Intro to Graphic Design with Dave really knows the extreme extent of this through the Quad Radius Variable Square project. We all had to make pages upon pages of alternative solutions to find the best one. Settling for the first idea that comes to mind may be easier, but doesn’t necessarily come up with the best solution. 

Honestly, in my own work I sometimes just go with my gut and my final product happens to be with the first idea I have. But there are other times in which I spend time sketching and exploring other options before figuring out which one will suit the project best. Though I don’t think there is a concrete way to do things all the time, a little (or a lot!) of exploration in our work can really push us to create our best work. 


It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God: revised and Expanded Version, Edited by Ned Bustard

The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay. Translated by D.M. Dooling.