Allegorical artworks are composed of symbols and/or personifications that convey complex ideas or narratives. Gustave Courbet's The Artist’s Studio, A Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Artistic and Moral Life (1854–5), for example, literally depicts the artist and associates in his studio, but also functions as an allegory, with the picture's elements alluding to the artist's experiences. With roots in classical philosophy—Plato’s allegory of the cave is the most famous example—this artistic tradition is almost exclusively western, drawing on, but distinct from, symbolism. Allegories must characteristically be deciphered by viewers and are often intelligible only to those familiar with the cultural context of the work. Though artistic allegories fell out of favor in the 19th century, when it was believed they would hinder direct communication, some contemporary artists, such as Walton Ford and Kara Walker, have revived the device, addressing the ambiguities that can arise when viewers interpret visual meanings.

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