Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mediation on an Image of Death

Recently I was reminded about one of the particular epigrams that appeared at the beginning of Blood Meridian which was an excerpt from newspaper which described the recent discovery of a scalped human skull. While this excerpt clearly fits well with the book’s implication that violence is both incredibly ubiquitous and prevalence, my thoughts were immediately drawn to how society tends to associate the human skeleton to death and thus acts of violence. This after all is sensible. Monsters are often depicted with piles of skeletons and their acts are often accompanied by the sound of crunching bones. Even the Jolly Roger is an effective symbol because the very image of bones is representative of a person having met his end.

Despite this, sometimes find that it this symbol can also be one that connotes tranquility. I remember images of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a diamond encrusted skull and think am remind how such a symbol can be altered and turned upside down. This work in no way hints at the death that provided the artist his medium; instead, its aesthetics provide a prime example of just like how violence can be stylized and tempered, so too can death.

I also recall memories of reading about the vernitas paintings of the 16th century Dutch, those depictions of skulls in sober, domestic settings serves not necessarily as an image of fear but as a reminder that death is impending for all. I may be the only crazy one who believes this, but I find such images, despite numerous reminders of how very fleeting a lifetime can be actually empower the individual and motivate one to live more fully, and to embrace Carpe Diem as a philosophy by which they can live by.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with your point on Damien Hirst's artwork. I believe that the shocking extravagance of the diamond-encrusted skull communicates the prospect of death, emphasizing the emptiness of human pleasures and luxuries. I take For the Love of God as an invitation to focus on thoughts of what comes after life, when all of those diamonds mean nothing. I find that message empowering and motivational too.


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