AskDefine | Define symbolism

Dictionary Definition



1 a system of symbols and symbolic representations
2 the practice of investing things with symbolic meaning [syn: symbolization, symbolisation]
3 an artistic movement in the late 19th century that tried to express abstract or mystical ideas through the symbolic use of images

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Representation of a concept through symbols or underlying meanings of objects or qualities.


representation of a concept

Extensive Definition

"Symbolic" redirects here. For other uses, see Symbolism (disambiguation) and Symbolic (disambiguation).
Symbolism is the applied use of symbols: iconic representations that carry particular conventional meanings.
The term "symbolism" is often limited to use in contrast to "representationalism"; defining the general directions of a linear spectrum - where in all symbolic concepts can be viewed in relation, and where changes in context may imply systemic changes to individual and collective definitions of symbols. "Symbolism" may refer to a way of choosing representative symbols in line with abstract rather than literal properties, allowing for the broader interpretation of a carried meaning than more literal concept-representations allow. A religion can be described as a language of concepts related to human spirituality. Symbolism hence is an important aspect of most religions.


All forms of language are innately symbolic, and any system of symbols can form a "language;" even a binary system. Human oral language is based on the phoneme. The written word is symbolically representative of both the symbolic phoneme and directly to the cognitive concept which it represents. The field of cognitive linguistics explores the cognitive process and relationships between different systems of phonetic symbols to indicate difference.


The interpretation of abstract symbols has had an important role in religion and psychoanalysis. As envisioned by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, symbols are not the creations of mind, but rather are distinct capacities within the mind to hold a distinct piece of information. In the mind, the symbol can find free association with any number of other symbols, can be organized in any number of ways, and can hold the connected meanings between symbols as symbols in themselves. Jung and Freud diverged on the issue of common cognitive symbol systems and whether they could exist only within the individual mind or among other minds; whether any cognitive symbolism was defined by innate symbolism or by the influence of the environment around them.
symbolism in Czech: Symbolismus
symbolism in Danish: Symbolisme
symbolism in German: Symbolismus
symbolism in Modern Greek (1453-): Συμβολισμός
symbolism in Spanish: simbolismo
symbolism in Persian: نمادگرایی
symbolism in French: Symbolisme
symbolism in Japanese: 象徴主義
symbolism in Dutch: Symbolisme
symbolism in Norwegian: Symbolisme
symbolism in Portuguese: Simbolismo
symbolism in Romanian: Simbolism
symbolism in Slovak: Symbolizmus
symbolism in Chinese: 象征主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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