In artwork, symbolism maps meaning to unrelated things. In paintings of the Annunciation, white lilies are used to represent Mary’s virginity and purity. What can be so frustrating when viewing modern art, especially, is that the mappings are completely lost to me as a viewer. This is partly due to no set meanings for abstract forms: does a line signify separation, renewal, connectedness? Well of course, it can be all of those and more: symbolism is much less fixed (if at all). Almost in every instance, the symbolism must be explained by the artist or the museum, leaving the viewing of modern art to be both challenging and intellectually rewarding.

Concetto spaziale, attesa (c. 1964) by Lucio Fontana (1899–1968).