For as long as our culture has being making art death, dying, and exploring the meaning of our fragile mortal lives have been key themes. Historically the arts have framed our practices around preparing for dying, celebrating lives, and pondered the traverse into the unknown. Artists of antiquity often used their media to describe the care for the dying and the dead, reflecting a palliative focus of the arts which continues to this day.
The arts continue to have an important role in our making sense of our experience of death and dying. David Bowie’s reflections on his own dying and Flying Lotus (& Kendrick Lamar’s) intonation of the process itself both act as expressions of transcendence. The idea of dying, a certain reality for Bowie and a more abstract fuel for FlyLo seemingly encouraging an artistic expression of solace for themselves and their listeners.
Connection with others through death and dying is highlighted in other forms within the arts. In Tinker’s Paul Harding as George Washington Crosby dies his material connection to all who have come before is laid bare for him. As George dies he wanders the interstice of his experience with that of his family realising, “This is how, finally, we were joined.” For Harding dying provides a demonstration of our connection to the elements of our world and its history.
The link between our experience, our frailty and our attempts to make meaning of our lives is also a theme within the art of Sam Jinks. In his work Still Life (Pieta) Jinks links the predictability of our physical decline and dependence with our own fundamental value. Jinks here suggests that my decline, my death, my loss and bereavement echoes that of others, even those of great religious, historical or cultural importance. Jinks simply reminds us that all deaths are deeply significant.
Each of these expressions influences those that encounters them, shaping our sense of what death and dying means to us all. The arts are in this sense part of our community conversation around death any dying. Palliative Care Australia’s the “Life in death” exhibition opening on the 29th of September embraces this idea through inviting artists to contribute their reflections on death and dying, while encouraging us all to take part in the conversation by voting on the works and attending. Events with similar aims are occurring all over the world, such as the recent #deathsalonfilmfest run in the U.S or the #deathonthefringe event in Edinburgh.
The #pallanz tweetchat for September (29/9/16 7pm AEST) will help us be part of this conversation by considering how we have been touched by artistic reflection on illness, grief, death and dying. The structure of the conversation will be as follows: (all times in AEST).
7pm: Welcome/ introductions (10 mins)
Topic 1 (T1) – What is your favourite art form? How does it deal with living with a serious illness, suffering and dying, and/or sadness and grief (10 mins)
Topic 2 (T2) – Tell us about examples of illness, grief, death and dying in the arts that have touched you. Why did you choose that example? (10 mins)
Topic 3 (T3) – Why are the arts important in thinking/talking about living with serious illness, grief, death and dying (10 mins)
Topic 4 (T4) – How could we promote the role of art in palliative care? (10 mins)
I look forward to seeing you there.