Art with a Bite
DARKNESS IN ART
THE WAY OF THE DARK IN ART
During the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was happy to scare peasants and nobles alike with tales of the horrors to be found in hell. This created a richness in art depicting both heaven and hell.
Later came depictions of witches riding broomsticks and witches with cats or rabbits as familiars. The familiar for a witch was supposedly the contact they had with Satan.
By the 19th Century belief in witchcraft was waning. Harmless old ladies with cats for company were less likely to be persecuted. Witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night and the nightmare, however, made their way into literature. The discovery of magnificent tombs in Egypt caused a sensation and also the fictional rise of Egyptian cadavers.
Then came, in the early 20th Century, real depictions of horror. This time on the battlefield. Hell could indeed be close at hand when one is buried alive with corpses or suffering from an attack of chlorine gas. World War One gave artists glimpses into ghastliness never before envisioned.
By the 19th and then the 19th Century it was indeed entertaining to find scary illustrations as well as stories in cheap magazines and in novels.
In the world of fiction the 19th Century was a time of mad monks and wandering cadavers. This was as true for the French as for the British. It may well have been a counter move to scientific discoveries of the age and of how logical the world was becoming.
In my novel, Desk Job, there are women who have been mistreated who become avenging praying mantises. It is a case of taking a modern setting and exploring what goes on in the minds of certain office worker types.
In times of trouble dark art is there to remind us that things could be worse. At least in Australia we live in a place where emergency crews are always on stand by and we generally have nothing but the best when it comes to fire fighters. We also have very good life savers on our beaches. But can you imagine what Australia would be like if none of the above was true?
In the 1940s there were Australian artists that depicted nightmare scenes of a Japanese invasion of the country. The fear was real.
Put simply, if you minded your place in society and were good you would go to heaven. If you did not mind your place in society and were bad, you would go to that other, less pleasant place. This was early propaganda as there was little difference between politics and how the Church operated.
Depictions of the fall of Adam and Eve and the reason for Adam and Eve being kicked out of the garden of Eden can be seen either on the inside or the outside of old Churches and Cathedrals. Do the right thing and God will look after you. Do the wrong thing and you will feel his anger.
Sometimes it is encouraging to know that others have similar nightmares to your own. It can also be comforting to know that others have had worse experiences in life than you have had and have managed to live to tell the tale. Dark fantasy can not only entertain but give us that respite from our own troubles which many of us need.
Without villains, heroes would never emerge. Even if the villain is a natural event such as a fire or a flood this still holds true. Without the darkness we would not appreciate the light.
Dark art, whether we are talking about story telling or what goes on canvas, has been with us a very long time. During the middle Ages there were some great depictions of both heaven and hell. In more modern times Pablo Picasso brought to the fore the horrors of war on civilians in his masterpiece Guernica (1937). In Guernica you have the fear and the pain on the faces of horses as well as people during a horrific raid by enemy planes.
For over a decade in the USA, due to self imposed censorship, those who worked in the comic book industry were not able to fully express their dark side. There were heroes but the villains could only do so much.
In the 1970s Gene Colan gave the vampire a certain fluidity that was impressive but everyone knew Dracula could only go so far and that the good guys ad to eventually win.
When the ban was finally lifted people like Frank Miller really went to town when it came to darkness and light, good and evil. The Dark Knight Returns changed the face superhero comic art and story telling . It was followed by Sin City which contained some of the darkest images together with truly dark story lines.
Today there are some great examples of dark art and story telling. Certainly Watchmen falls into this category in whatever medium you wish to check it out.
Check out the Australian art of Steve Carter and A. Rydyr some time. Steve is best known for his exotic and dangerous lizard or dinosaur women.
A. Rydyr is best known for Poor Bitch, a comic book about the ugliness of modern life that can rival certain issues of American Splendor. Together Carter and Rydyr are an unbeatable team. They have recently gone in for script writing and with some success.
In terms of the novel look out for the writing of Jim Butcher.
Also, while you are at it, examine Disco Evil and Ghost Dance by yours truly at www.bloodredshadow.com
My novels can be purchased on Amazon USA also Kindle.
Look out for Rod Marsden on Smashwords, too!
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