SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2022
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SPOTLIGHT
DEATH IN ART
Text By Douglas Schwartz
"Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come."

- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
I think it's fair to say that most people prefer not to think about death. Death,
after all, is a rather serious affair which can be extremely frightening. Artists,
however, have never been afraid of taking on the Grim Reaper though their
artistry. That's because artists are intensely passionate people by their very
nature and wouldn't let a thing called death prevent them from expressing
their creativity. No way! As a result of their fearless passion, artists have
explored the topic of death in paintings, literature, movies and songs.

When it comes to the latter, music lovers can listen to everything from
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem to Sarah McLachlan's Angel. Other
songs with death as the theme include, Joey+Rory's When I'm Gone, Danny
Gokey's I Will Not Say Goodbye, Casting Crowns' Scars in Heaven, Ed
Sheeran's Visiting Hours, Brooks & Dunn's Believe, Eric Clapton's Tears in
Heaven
, Genesis' Since I Lost You, Garth Brooks' If Tomorrow Never
Comes
and The Dance, and Elton John's Funeral for a Friend.

Then there's the classic song, I'll Be Seeing You, which has been recorded
by many talented artists including Billie Holiday and Linda Ronstadt. While
this song doesn't refer to death by name in the lyrics, the message that it
shares with the listener clearly illustrates the sorrow experienced by a
person who has lost someone they treasure dearly. If the heartfelt emotion
contained in this song, as well as the others I mentioned, doesn't bring a
tear to the listener's eye, then that person lacks any sense of emotion
as far as I'm concerned.
Television has also tackled death over the years. While
death was always waiting at the operating room door
on the M*A*S*H series, one extremely touching and
memorable episode entitled, Follies of the Living -
Concerns of the Dead
, was about a recently deceased
soldier coming to terms with his own passing. On the
extreme other hand, a wacky look at death and reincar-
nation was expressed in the 1960s series, My Mother
the Car
. Some people say that this was the worst tele-
vision series ever produced. I can name at least twenty
that I believe are far worse, but I'll leave that for another
time.

The television series version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
as well as several episodes of The Twilight Zone, most
notably The Hitch-Hiker, also explored the subject of
death with creative style. And then there's The Walking
Dead
who apparently never tire of walking. How dead
can they be?!
While literature, paintings, poetry and music
have each depicted death in their own style
quite well, perhaps no art form has done so
as articulately as motion pictures. That's
because films combine words, performance,
music and visual art into one artistic presen-
tation. While some films about death are
dramatic or even scary, others dare to
present the subject with a humorous twist.
Some of my personal favorite movies which
feature death as the primary topic include...
Somewhere in Time
, Defending Your Life,
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
, Ghost, The Others,
Made in Heaven
, Topper, The Ghost and
Mrs. Muir, The Sixth Sense
, Goodbye
Charlie
and Portrait of Jennie.
"Who knoweth if to die be but to live,
and that called life by mortals be but death?"

- Euripides
All content in this SPOTLIGHT © copyright the respective artists. All rights reserved.

One particular favorite of mine pushed the subject of death to the limit and, in
doing so, may have upset some viewers by throwing the final chapter of life full-
force in their faces. It is the 1998 film entitled, What Dreams May Come, and is
based on the 1978 novel by the same name by Richard Matheson. Matheson,
incidentally, got the title for his book from William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet…
"To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death,
what dreams may come
..." This is an excellent example of how artists influence
other artists.

Starring comic legend Robin Williams in the dramatic leading role, What Dreams
May Come
also stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra and Max von Sydow.
The actors' superb performances, along with the words they speak, touch the soul.
With cinematography by Eduardo Serra that can only be described as exquisite,
and a musical score by Michael Kamen which is both enchanting and spiritually
uplifting, What Dreams May Come is a feast for the eyes and ears.

With all that going for it, some people may still view What Dreams May Come as
dark and depressing. I, however, believe that the words...intensely powerful,
thought provoking
and supernaturally haunting...best describe the film and would
instead use the words "dark" and "depressing" to define most of the news on
television these days.

While I won't attempt to describe everything that the character played by Robin goes through in the film, I will say that most of
the story centers around the idea that nothing will stop love. Not even death and the horrors of hell itself! If you've never seen
this film and are up to the emotional challenge, I highly recommend it.

Watching What Dreams May Come is all the more poignant today because Robin passed beyond the constraints of this life
in 2014. While his talent as an actor and comedian is sorely missed, I believe he is now in a place which is infinitely more
beautiful than any motion picture, or any other art form, could ever portray. It is also a lot funnier with Robin Williams there!

Regardless of philosophical beliefs, each life here on Earth is but a blink in time. A momentary etching in the continuity of
forever. Personally, I view death as the closing of one set of eyes and the opening of another. An end of one phase and the
beginning of the next. This way of thinking makes sense and satisfies me. It also allows me to feel comfortable pursuing my
life as an artist with all of its trials and tribulations.

Artists are the ones who not only show the wonders of life, but the mystery of it as well. What we think we know and what we
are perhaps afraid to know. When it comes to the many ways in which death has been portrayed in art, I see each creative
accomplishment as being one interpretation of a much grander picture. All combined, they represent something which far
surpasses that which any one artist, with the exception of God Himself, can express.
Gustave Doré, Death on the Pale Horse
Hugo Simberg, The Garden of Death
Casper David Friedrich, Monastery Ruins in the Snow
Gustave Doré, The Empyrean, Dante's The Divine Comedy
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