The Depiction of Death: Art during The Spanish Flu
Interesting business here, the depiction of death, and it’s been described in art and culture in so many different ways. It goes across the spectrum from peaceful to violent, to macabre. It’s not death itself though that’s so gloomy, is it? It’s the atmosphere preceding and after. War is horrible, but not gloomy. Dying in one’s sleep having grown old isn’t gloomy. It’s usually depicted as particularly blissful. It’s how everyone wants to go if you ask them, or would prefer to go.
Then there’s pestilence, like a long term plague. There’s the Spanish Flu of the early 20th Century. A hundred years on now we have Covid-19. There is a stultifying gloom around it. Perhaps that’s why the chaos and violence have seen an uptick. Maybe it’s a manifestation of the desire to feel anything, even dread panic, rather than to sit around in the fear and wait to die. It’s interesting though that I had never considered the prevailing zeitgeist of the times of the lives of two of the gloomiest of painters and how it may have impacted and motivated their work. I’ve enjoyed a lt of street art during Covid-19, and street art is generally a horse of a different color, but it makes me wonder what sort of horrors are lying in wait in studios waiting to be seen. What darkness and shadow is hidden away until the museums and galleries re-open to crowds? It’s going to be an interesting time when they are all revealed.
And of course there is the social unrest atop the virus. That will only add to it. How will this time be viewed and reviewed 100 years down the line, in the museums of 2121?