Letter from the editor
When we initially decided upon this issue’s theme, “Symbols,” it was unrelated to the season; we were simply inspired by the work of abstract artists, who can somehow pack a painting, sculpture, or drawing so full of meaning, without a single concrete, tangible image.
However, as we developed the idea, it became obvious that it’s perfect for the winter issue. Perhaps as an antidote to the inherent gloominess of the season, winter is packed full of symbolic gestures and traditions. Think of the winter holidays common to the United States. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, uses the menorah; the eight candles in the menorah symbolize the eight days over which the Maccabees’ menorah burned after they conquered their persecutors, despite only having enough oil for one day. This miracle story is representative of something larger, as well: the victory of a small group of Jews over a larger group of oppressors, evidence that God loved the Jewish people, the power of faith.
Christmas, too, makes heavy use of symbols, many borrowed from Pagan solstice traditions. The evergreens used to decorate the home at Christmas, like holly, ivy, and the fir trees we call Christmas trees, symbolize renewal and immortality, an important reminder in a season of darkness and cold. Bringing light into the home in the form of candles and electric strands represents the light that Christians believe Jesus brought to the world on the night of his birth, the light that represents God.
Even our non-religious holidays rely on symbolic gestures. On New Year’s Eve, we bang pots and pans, ignite fireworks, and set off noisemakers to ward off any potential evil spirits or negativity, ensuring a fortunate start to the new year. We set (and sometimes stick to) resolutions, considering the beginning of a new calendar year to be a symbolic “fresh start.”
It’s impossible to celebrate a holiday, let alone consume art, media, or even advertising, without engaging in or deciphering symbols, because we are surrounded by symbols constantly. Ferdinand de Saussure developed the theory of semiology (later known as semiotics), which explains the role of signs, or symbolism, in our everyday life. One example is language, in which a signifier (a word or icon) is used to represent an idea—think the word “dog” (or “chien” or “perro”) versus the idea of a dog. But this concept expands far past linguistics to encompass the way we perceive, understand, translate, and make decisions about everything we experience.
Obviously, there’s more to unpack about symbolism than we could possibly tackle here in our humble Catskills art magazine. We can only hope that the articles and interviews herein will give you a peek into a few of the symbolic choices that govern art-making and life here in upstate New York.
And speaking of the new year—we’re excited, too, about a symbolic fresh start. In 2016, we’ll be developing new content (like video), expanding our blog, welcoming new contributors, bringing events and workshops to our members, and perhaps even delving into the world of print with an anthology of the publication’s first year. Want to be part of it? Get at us.