Pictorial metaphors can function as doorways that allow the viewer to visually enter a work of art in a multidimensional way. In front of the painting the viewer is being presented two choices: Taking the red pill and enjoy the painting as such or taking the blue pill which means going down the rabbit hole, actively engaging in its content through analysing its metaphors. Eventually providing a breeding ground for thoughts and ideas by activating the readers perception and imagination. A pictorial metaphor unites thoughts and actions triggering a potential change of conceptions by infusing them with new meanings.
Functioning as instruments of human orientation but also instruments of creative transformation, pictorial metaphors are active at the intersection of art, semantics, poetry and psychology. Generating an expanded mental universe through detachment.
Themes like love, death, decay, faith, love have been portrayed throughout the centuries as visual metaphors, establishing a connection between perception and emotion. Without using semantics, except for the title, the artist envisions a painting as a perceptive statement about the world in which the viewer can partake an active role enriching its semantics.
One of the most early and prominent examples that is literally pregnant with pictorial metaphors is the The Arnolfini Portrait (1432) by Jan van Eyck. The little dog in the front for example signifies fidelity but also lust, the mirror on the wall God's eye or the immaculate conception, the bed behind the wife Giovanna Cenami symbolises her role as caretaker of the house, the single candle symbolises the Holy Ghost, the burned-out candle on his wife's side refers to her early death (she died before the portrait was finished), the cherries stand for love while the oranges represent wealth. Its abundant use of pictorial metaphors contributed to its impenetrable and enigmatic aura offering new insights into the zeitgeist of that period.
Throughout the ages pictorial metaphors have provided food for thought transforming works of art into conversation pieces that intrigued, frightened, riddled and educated its viewers. Ranging from Hieronymus Bosch The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510) that depicts an elusive layering of visual metaphors to Paul Cézanne's
Still Life with Plaster Cupid (1895) whereby the plaster refers to the humanist triumph of the Greeks and Romans and the birth of naturalism, while the apples and the statue signify the relationship between the natural and the ephemeral. In the same sense Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory (1931) ruminates on the function of time, dreams and memory as Frida Kahlo's „Broken Column“ (1944) depicts the artist as a column illustrating her mental triumph over her suffering, visualising new worlds and triggering creative thinking by infusing their works with the poetic visual expressive language of pictorial metaphors.