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Art in Death

The parting of ways between you and those you love as they pass is always a difficult time for all involved. To some, celebrating the life of the deceased through art is a way to help bring closure and balance. Looking through history one can see the imprint of death in the art in many cultures, be it the murals and artwork of Charon crossing the river of the dead on Funerary vases from the 5th and 4th century BC to the elaborate funeral rites of the Toraja’s of central Sulawesi.Given the long and broad cultural history of art in death, one can be underwhelmed by the influence of art in America today. From flat gravestones to uninspired mausoleums it seems we’ve entered a period of artistic drought compared to what one could find in graveyard art from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.


So why is this?  A great question – I wish I had empirical evidence to back up my suspicions, but I don’t, so take the following as an educated guess open to a greater discussion.  Prior to, say, the 1920’s the statue of one’s monument in death was tightly correlated to that family’s social position.  When the great majority of people lived in (near) indentured service, the ability to purchase a gravestone, let alone a mausoleum, was one only enjoyed by a few.  Indeed, if we look at old graveyards, the more ornate the monument the more likely you are to find tales of that families ‘nobility’ in the local folklore.   Think of the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mah Hall as extreme examples of this trend.

However, as the general wealth of the lower/middle class increased, simple economic survival became less a question than a certainty.  If one were to look at graveyards prior to WWII, one could see a trend towards more ornateness across all the graves as the years went by.  After WWII, however, was a less ostentatious time with monument complexity decreasing through the 2000’s as ornateness was replaced with corporate conformity and regulations.  This trend was amplified by art culturally going ‘underground’ where it was institutionalized and isolated in locales such as museums and small local galleries.

Fortunately, we’ve entered a phase of greater expression of artistic influences across all of culture due to the internet’s granting everyday Joe’s the ability share and digest art cheaply and quickly from the comfort of their own house.  No longer does one need to go to a gallery or a museum to enjoy art; one only needs to search on their computer.  In turn, the discoverability of art by a larger pool of people has allowed for smaller niches of artistic expression to gain a critical mass allowing for profitable growth of that niche.

Naturally, this artistic blossoming has extended to the niche of art in death. Both for people and pets, many new products are hitting the market that allow for the grieving through art that has been lacking for the last several decades due, in some part, to the afore mentioned reasons. From the surreal renaissance pet paintings by Amanda & Moti to cremation ash infused into glass cat figurines by Spirit Pieces, a new renaissance is indeed upon us. It can only be hoped this is the start of a larger trend towards the celebration of life via art, rather than a focus on death as the dark corner of the room to be ignored and covered up.

By David Blake, Owner
Spirit Pieces Memorials

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