What does clouds symbolize in art?

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I love seeing clouds in paintings, photographs, and other visual arts. But what does clouds symbolize in art? Does it represent something specific? Here’s a few things that clouds have represented in art history and my own interpretation of clouds in art.

Related: What counts as beautiful art? And how can you create it?

Like most symbolism and representations in art, there’s no one straight answer. The meaning of clouds in art has probably changed a lot throughout time, as ideologies and human opinions are constantly changing. 

Clouds can also represented different things depending on the artist’s or creator’s background (religion, living era, cultural context, educational background, and beliefs). But here are some of the possible meanings of clouds in art.

Clouds in art history

In romantic era paintings, clouds represented the turbulent and ever-changing nature of inner states (feelings, emotions, thoughts). Clouds can in this sense represent the passing and fleeting nature of time, thoughts, and perception.

Clouds have also been used in traditional art to suggest “scale, orientation, weather conditions and distance” (Wikipedia on Cloudscape). So, clouds have also been used as a technique to portray aerial perspectives and scales. 

Then, there’s also the ever-present connection between art symbolism and religion. In traditional Chinese arts for example, clouds can be seen as the middle space between earth and heaven where gods and other immortals would exist. Clouds could then also work as vehicles of which gods and immortals could use to travel between realms of reality. In many old western paintings of gods and other holy figures, you can also find them surrounded by clouds (e.g. angels).

For a long time, the sky and space was unavailable for human reach, and so clouds represented a space that we did not know much about. In more recent times however, since the development of science and commercialized air travel, clouds and the sky are not as mysterious to us anymore as it once was.

I think this brings us to the modern day, where clouds are more often used to bring in a touch of nature, and a touch of the outdoors to the indoors. It is not uncommon to see cloud installations inside or photobashing artists placing clouds inside of buildings and similar places.

My interpretation of what clouds symbolize in art

Personally, I paint or use clouds in my art to give a dreamy, airy, and romanizing vibe. Drawing or placing clouds where they do not really belong (indoors, around my head, in other odd places) is like creating a dream world, playing on fantasies and making things more playful.

Clouds for me also represent freedom, vastness, the feeling of “live and let live”. I also think they can make anything look pretty, friendly, and safe. 

So, as you can see, the meaning and what clouds symbolize in art can be highly varied, but it’s fun to think about. Perhaps you can find a use for clouds in your own art as well? 

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