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Lucy Goddard Why do artists past and present continue to use the symbol of the skull in so many forms of artwork? The human skull has arisen as one of the most recognisable symbols of today’s contemporary arts and visual landscape. Reborn through music, fashion and art of an alternative youth culture it has evolved from its spiritual and religious origins to become an icon for a post-modern society. From African charms to Mayan cultures, Greek myths to Aztec legends, the human sk
  Lucy Goddard Why do artists past and present continue to use the symbol of the skull in so many forms of artwork?  The human skull has arisen as one of the most recognisable symbols of today’s contemporary arts and visual landscape. Reborn through music fashion and art of an alternative youth culture it has evolved from its spiritual and religious srcins to become an icon for a post!modern society. rom #frican charms to $ayan cultures Greek myths to #%tec legends the human skull appears throughout myth and legend of human culture. # sacred symbol of luck or intellect protection or fear &esh or the soul death or resurrection its mystical and spiritual powers have captivated humanity and cast the skull as an emblem for the human consciousness a memento mori through which to e'plore our fascination with the transience of life death and the human soul. Reworked by artists illustrators and designers this morbid motif has found its way into urban life its macabre and mystic meanings re!appropriated as a symbol of spiritualityanarchy and rebellion. rom the $is(ts to $assive #ttack #ndy Warhol to #le'ander $c)ueen *an Gogh to +amien ,irst the skull has straddled the worlds of art popular culture and fashion to become today’s ultimate anti!establishment icon.  Lucy Goddard  The earliest human artistic representations of the skull date from around - /.0. Theearliest certi(able artistic use of the bone inthis form however did not occur until around1 /.0. in 2ericho 3which is now modern day4alestine5. This also happens to be one of theoldest inhabited cities on the planet6archaeologists have discovered the remnantsof more than 7 settlements in the area datingback to around - /.0. (Eichenberg, D.2016)  This would suggest that 2ericho sprungup right around the same time that humansstarted to abandon a hunter!gatherer lifestylein e'change for permanent settlements and anagricultural lifestyle. With such lastingsettlements came permanent graves andhence the treatment of human remains forburial and in turn art!form. The commonpractice at the time was to bury the bodiesbeneath the home. 8n most cases the skullwas removed (rst. #fter removing any &eshthe face and head were remodelled withplaster and shells were used in place of the eyes . (British Museum, 1954)  They were then painted to resemble the dead and displayed in the home. This is demonstrated in fgure 1 . 9ome may believe that artefacts such as these have more relation to burial and memorial than they do to art and design however 8 think it combines the two harmoniously. The earlier humans who created these sculptures in my eyes were being resourceful and creating artwork from what was readily available at the time. #fter all the skull was remodelled to show resemblance of the person it once belonged to and was presented in the home a concept not far from the portrait paintings sculptures or photographs one displays in their home in modern times. # similar practice was carried out by the ancient :apotec people of ;a'aca. The skulls of their ancestors were mi'ed with ivory bamboo <ade tur=uoise and other minerals in a mosaic!like fashion to show the status of the dead. There are many e'amples that have been recovered from the $onte #lban site outside ;a'aca dating anywhere from > /.0. to  #.+. (Eichenberg, D. 2016).  These have even been compared to the famous +amien ,irst piece @ or the Love of God.@ 8tAs easy to see how such a comparison could be made. Thus the (rst use of the human skull in art seems tohave been funerary in nature a memorial of sorts. #nd therefore began a long history continued to this very day of remembering and celebrating the memory of the dead with art. The same concept is present in $e'ico’s culture the form of the $e'ican holiday B+ay of the +ead’ 3+ia de los $uertos5. 8t focuses on remembering and honoring the departed and itAs roots have been traced back to the #%tec festival in honour of $ictecacihuatl the #%tec goddess who ruled and watched over the dead. (Eichenberg, D. 2016)  These festivals evolved from #%tec traditions into the modern +ay of the +ead after fusion with 9panish traditions. 9he now presides over the contemporary festival as well. $ictecacihuatl is known as the Lady of the +ead since it is believed that she was born then sacri(ced as an infant. #ccording to folklore she escorted the newly departed back to their already departed families and kept watch over the bones of the dead. Figure 2  is a statue depicting her.   8GCRD - 8GCRD 7  Lucy Goddard $odern +ay of the +ead celebrations are (lled with skull and skeleton imagery including sugar skulls masks ofrendas 3altars in memory of the dead5 tattoos dolls parade &oats and so on. ;n the - st  and 7 nd  of Eovember families decorated the graves of their loved ones with drawings called Bcalaveras’ 3skulls5 to evoke the spirits of the dead to hear the prayers and thoughts of the living. The holiday has spread throughout many parts of the world in turn in&uencing the use of the skull and skeleton in art.  There are similar celebrations in virtually every corner of the world now from #merica to Durope and #sia. 8t is perhaps one of the greatest in&uences on skull!themed art worldwide at least in recent times. $e'ican political printmaker and engraver 2osF Guadalupe 4osada 3->7!--H5created a parody of an upper!class$e'ican female entitled La 0alavera0atrina in which she was depicted as askeleton in fashionable attire. This striking(gure has since become associated closelywith the +ay of the +ead holiday and0atrina (gures are often part of thefestival. The 0atrina (gure and manyother elements of the +ay of the +eadcontinue to in&uence artists today such asLaurie Lipton. Figure 3  is 4osada’s %inc etching named BLa 0alavera 0atrina’ 3--H meaning B+apper 9keletonA or ADlegant 9kullA5. The image depicts 0atrinathe female skeleton dressed only in a hat be(tting the upper class out(t of a Duropean of her time. 9he is intended to be a satirical portrait of those $e'ican natives who felt as though their culture was aspiring to adopt Duropean aristocratic traditions in the pre!revolution era. 9he also symbolises the contrastsbetween the upper and lower classes for times were cruel. The social classes were e'tremely segmented and the highest class was the most fortunate en<oying many privileges6 in contrast the lower classes were nearly invisible. To e'plain and rescue the folklore of worshiping the dead while showing this oI to high society 2osF Guadalupe 4osada made her a caricature of +eath. (nnenberg F!un #ti!n, 2016)  The +ay of the +ead and La 0alavera 0atrina highlight <ust how long one conceptof the skull can span throughout human history srcinating from an #%tec god to a festival still celebrated by the $e'ican culture to this day and remains one of the most signi(cant celebrations of death in modern society. (D!$%ing, F. 2011)  8t is clear to me that a large part of skull imagery in artwork has connections to honoring the dead and celebrating life J a reoccurring theme which will keep cropping up throughout cultures and time. The political and satirical work of 4osada is one 8 (nd particularly interesting as it demonstrates a longing to keep $e'ican traditions like these from losing their true meaning to other more dominate cultures who may bring a sense of vain shallowness or emptiness to the custom. The +ay of the +ead of course srcinates from #%tec and other $esoamerican culture famous for their ('ation with bones and the dead. 8n their time the skull had other functions rather than <ust a tribute to the deadK skull racks or   8GCRD H  Lucy Goddard t%ompantli were a type of scaIold!like construction used to display rows and columns of human skulls. Their use has been documented in several $esoamerican cultures such as the Toltec $ayans and #%tecs. The skulls usually came from war captives or sacri(cial victims. They were in use from  #.+. to -7> though it is possible they were in use as early as 7 /.0. in the :apotec civili%ation in modern $e'ico. (Eichenberg, D. 2016). Dduardo $atos anarchaeologist at the Eational 8nstitute of #nthropology and ,istory suggested the skull rack Mwas a show of mightN by the #%tecs. riends and even enemies were invited into the city precisely to be cowed by the grisly display of heads in various stages of decomposition. (&he 'u#r i#n, ss!ci#te ress in Meic! *it+,200). 9o rather than a positive display of memorial the #%tecs essentially constructed skull racks as a trophy cabinet of sorts to warn outsiders and enemies of their strength. The t%ompantli may have been an in&uence on the design of Eew Oorks well known Goldbar considering the love of both skulls and gold displayed by cultureslike the #%tecs. #nd because they preceded the Duropean ossuaries and it is known that the 9panish and other cultures witnessed them it is certainly a possibility that the $esoamerican t%ompantli in&uenced the design of the many ossuaries that followed all over the world. Figure 4  is a photograph of a wall within the Goldbar in Eew Oork city modern day.;bviously the use of the skull in artwork was not restricted <ust to 9outh #merican culture but was and still is present all over the world. The human skull has had great signi(cance in Duropean 0hristian artwork particularly paintings of the Renaissance period. 8n the early -Pth century the /lack +eath cast a grave shadow upon early Renaissance society reminding people that A+eathA watched over them all. (D!$%ing, F. 2011)  The +ance of +eath emerged as a morbid satirical warning of the inevitability of death and was visualised by artists such as artists such as $ichael Wolgemut and later ,ans ,olbein and +amien Lhomme. ;ver this art period emerged the AvanitasA the term srcinates from theopening lines of the /ook of Dcclesiastes in the /ibleK B*anity of vanities saith the 4reacher vanity of vanities all is vanity.’ *anitas are closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life 3memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning Bremember you must die’5 and include symbols such as skulls and e'tinguished 8GCRD P
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