Symbolism (from the French symbolisme) is a literary, artistic and ideological trend in the culture of the last quarter of 19 – the first third of the 20th century. It arose as a reaction to the domination of materialism, positivism and naturalism in the European culture of the 19th century. He continued and developed the ideas and creative principles of the German Romantics, relied on the aesthetics of F. Schelling, F. Schlegel, A. Schopenhauer, Swedenborg’s mysticism, Wagner’s experiments; the basis of symbolism at the beginning of the twentieth century – the ideas and principles of thinking F. Nietzsche. Among the sources of creative inspiration – some forms of spiritual cultures of the East (in particular, Buddhism), and in the late stage – theosophy and anthroposophy. As the direction of symbolism developed in France, the highest heights reached in the 80-90s of the 19th century. The main representatives – S. Mallarme, J. Mooreas, R. Gil, A. de Rainier, A. Jid, P. Claudel, Saint-Paul-Roux; in Belgium – M.Meterlinck, E.Verharn, A.Mokel; in Germany and Austria – S.George, H. Hauptmann, R.Rilke, G.Goffmannstal; in Norway – G. Ibsen, K. Gamsun, A. Strindberg; in the fine arts: P. Gogen, G. Moro, P. Pouvi de Chavan, E. Carrier, O. Reedon, M. Denis and artists of the Nabi group, O. Roden (France), A. Böcklin (Switzerland), J. Seganti-no (Italy), DG Rossetti, E. Burne-Jones, O. Beardsley (Great Britain), J. Thorop (Holland), F. Hodler (Austria); in music: in part K. Debussy; in the theater: P. Faur (France), G. Craig (England), F. Komissarzhevsky, partly V. Meyerhold.
Symbolists enthusiastically accepted the idea of the Romantics that the symbol in art promotes the ascent from the world to the mountain, their mystical and religious understanding of poetry. Direct forerunners of the actual symbolism as a “school”, or direction, became Sh.Bodler, P.Verlen, A.Rembo, and one of the initiators of the movement and his theorist – Mallarme. Two main tendencies in symbolism can be distinguished (although they often coexist in concrete creativity and even in theoretical manifestations): the Neo-Platonic-Christian line (objective symbolism) and the solipsist line (subjective symbolism). The most consistent theoreticians of the first tendency were J.Moreas, E.Reino, S.Moris, J.Vanor; among the main representatives of the second – young A. Zhid, Remi de Gurmon, G. Kan.
Mauras revived the Platonic-Neoplatonic conception of art as a “tangible reflection of the original” in symbols. Paintings of nature, any objects and phenomena of life, human actions and other topics, he claims, are of interest to the symbolist poet not in themselves, but only as sensually comprehended symbols expressing ideas. For the artistic embodiment of these symbols, a new poetic style (“primordially all-encompassing”) and a special language developed by symbolists based on the Old French and folk languages are needed. Hence the peculiar poetics of symbolism. Sh. Moris gave the complete exposition of the essence of objective symbolism in his article “Literature of the Present Day” (1889). He is convinced that the only sources of Art are Philosophy, Tradition, Religion, Legends. Art synthesizes their experience and goes further in comprehending the spiritual Absolute. Genuine art is not fun, but “revelation,” it “like the gates into the gaping Mystery,” is the “key that opens Eternity”, the way to Truth and “righteous Joy.” The poetry of the Symbolists is the poetry of “primordial”, revealing the soul and language of nature and the inner world of man. Symbolic art is designed to restore the original unity of poetry (which is the primary role), painting and music. The essence of “universal aesthetic synthesis” is “the fusion of the Spirit of Religion and the Spirit of Science in the festival of Beauty, imbued with the most human of desires: to find wholeness by returning to primordial simplicity.” This is the ideal and goal of symbolism. Some Symbolists professed the cult of Beauty and Harmony, as the main forms of the revelation of God in the world. The poet is engaged in the secondary creation of the world, and “particles of the Divine serve him as material,” and the “compass of the Poet” is intuition, which the Symbolists considered the main engine of artistic creativity. Mallarme believed that in every, even the most insignificant thing, a certain hidden meaning is laid down and the goal of poetry is to express, with the help of the human language, “having acquired its original rhythm,” the “hidden meaning of a diverse life”. This function is performed in poetry by an artistic symbol, for it does not call the object of expression itself, but only hints at it, giving the reader pleasure in the process of guessing the meaning hidden in the symbol.
The solipsist trend in symbolism proceeded from the fact that man deals only with a complex of sensations, ideas, ideas that he creates in himself and which have nothing in common with the alien being. According to Remy de Gourmont, “we learn only phenomena and only talk about appearances; truth in itself eludes us; the essence is inaccessible … I do not see what is; there is only what I see. How many thinking people, as many different worlds “(Le livre des masques). Similar ideas in the philosophical-symbolic “Treatise on Narcissus (Theory of the Symbol)” (1891) was expressed by A.Zhid. The understanding of the symbol as an artistic form of fixation of the subjective representations and experiences of the poet was expressed in some symbolist works (V. de Lil-Adana, R. de Gourmont, A. Jarry).
According to Maeterlinck, the artist is not the creator of the symbol, but the symbol, as “one of the forces of nature,” is revealed in art through the artist. The symbol is a kind of mystical bearer of the secret energy of things, the eternal harmony of being, the messenger of another life, the voice of the universe. The artist must humbly give himself a symbol, which with his help will reveal images that obey the universal law, but often incomprehensible even to the mind of the artist himself. The most saturated symbolic meaning in a work of art is often the outwardly most ordinary events, phenomena, objects. Variations of such an understanding of the symbol are found in many symbolists of the first direction. According to the definition of one of the theoreticians of A.Mohol’s symbolist aesthetics, the symbol is “a great image blooming on the Idea”; “The allegorical realization of the Idea, the tense connection between the immaterial world of laws and the sensory world of things” (Esthétique du symbolisme, Brux., 1962, p. 226). The poet-symbolist and art critic A.Orie believed that the art of symbolists, expressing the Idea in visible forms, is subjective in nature, because the object is perceived in it through the spiritual world of the subject; synthetics and decorative approach bring together the art of symbolism with the specific aesthetic art direction of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, which was called Art Nouveau in France, Secession in Austria, Jugendstil in Germany.
Symbolism has had a significant impact on some artistic trends of the 20th century (expressionism, futurism, surrealism, the theater of the absurd, postmodernism), the work of a number of major writers and artists. Many of the theoretical finds of the Symbolists are reflected in the major aesthetic currents. At the same time, the spiritual, and often religious and mystical orientation of the majority of Symbolists was acute, alien to the main trend of 20th century art.