Archive for August 13th, 2021

Hartley/ Symbology


Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)- “Cosmos: The Mountains

All things that are living are expression and therefore part of the inherent symbology of life. Art, therefore, that is encumbered with excessive symbolism is extraneous, and from my point of view, useless art. Anyone who understands life needs no handbook of poetry or philosophy to tell him what it is.

–Marsden Hartley

I think this is an important point from a favorite artist of mine, Marsden Hartley. Trying to paint work that is pointedly symbolic, that tries to force meaning that doesn’t naturally flow from the subject, often feels flat and lifeless to me. Or extraneous and useless as Hartley put it.

Generally, the subject evokes its own meaning and feeling and the best the artist can do is enhance it with their own skills and style — the artist’s tools for storytelling– to make it apparent to the viewer.

Sounds easy. It’s not.

We often add symbology or clutter that either clouds, alters, or detracts from the inherent meaning of the subject.

We complicate when we should simplify.

It’s the story of communication throughout time. Simplicity always triumphs.

I hope that makes sense. I am tired this morning and it sounded okay halfway through my first cup of coffee. A couple of hours from now I might have questions about this.

Here are a few more of Hartley’s landscapes, most from his home state of Maine.


Marsden Hartley- ” An Evening Landscape”


Marsden Hartley- “Hall of the Mountain King”


Marsden hartley- “Strom Clouds, Maine”


Marsden Hartley-“The Ice Hole”

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