So right before the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I posted a new piece of artwork entitled Spinning Celtic Skulls (pictured above), my vision of a glimpse into the mind of Lewis' Carroll's Queen of Hearts. When I pointed my artwork out to my mother, she took at quick glance at the image on my facebook page and her sarcasm was very detectable through the phone when she said, "Very nice, Ange. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too."
Now, while my mother has always been very supportive of my artwork, she has never really understood my darker side. "Ange," she has said in the past. "I don't understand why you draw and write such dark things. You are so cheerful and happy. You are a nice person. How can someone with such a pleasant disposition create such dark, depressing things?"
And so, Mom, this post is for you—my attempt to answer your question and to go a little further, arguing that it is because I create such dark and depressing things that I am so happy and cheerful.
This post is for anyone who does not understand gothic art, culture, and philosophy, for all the mothers out there who don't understand why all their teenager wants to do is wear black and listen to death metal, for all the people who would rather focus on the nicer, prettier aspects of life rather than acknowledging the harsh realities of death and impermanence.
But first, I have a confession to make. I am a closet Goth. I have always appreciated the Goth aesthetic, the dark hair and eyes contrasting with pale skin and dark, elegant clothing. I have never had the courage to dress that way, mainly for professional reasons—I don't want to scare my clients away. :-) But while I may not look Goth on the outside, I am definitely one on the inside and this is why.
For me, one of the appeals of gothic art and culture is the acknowledgment of life in all its aspects, its horrors as well as its beauty. Gothic artists and writers possess the ability to see the beauty within the horror. All these images of skulls and blood and death are just an acknowledgment of the truth of the human condition—we are born, we live, and we die. When we can honour the truth of death as gothic artists do, then we can truly appreciate life. In some sense, Buddhists do the same thing, contemplating death in meditations on emptiness of the body and impermanence. Why, one of the major tenants of Buddhist thought is the first noble truth, which states quite frankly that "Life is suffering." So for me, gothic art and Buddhist thought go hand in hand.
"But how does this acknowledgement of suffering and death make you happy?" you might ask.
Because it is a relief to acknowledge the truth. When I remember my mortality, when I remind myself that I, too, will die someday, I can finally relax and enjoy life with a lighter heart, an appreciation for every bittersweet moment as it is. It is kind of like when you were a little kid and you were afraid of what was under your bed and you couldn't go to sleep until you checked to see what kind of horrors lived amongst those cobwebs and dust bunnies and old comic books. When you finally saw what was there and what wasn't there, then and only then could you take a deep breath, and curl up under a pile of heavy blankets and snuggle off to sleep.
It is not until we acknowledge these horrors, both real and imagined, see them face to face and look them in the eye, that we get to know them and realize that they aren't as scary as we initially thought them to be, and that, my friends, brings a great sense of relief, to be able to think, "Ahhh, I will die someday," to never forget that fact, because we never know when that someday is. Maybe it's tomorrow, maybe it's today, and maybe it's 30 years from now.
And so when you look under your bed and your imagination plays tricks on you, and you swear you saw a monster under there, at least now you know what your dealing with, even if your mind has made it up to fill the space, to fill the terror of not knowing, at least now, your mind has given form to the worst case scenario, and believe it or not, my friends, knowing always makes us feel better.
The gothic art that takes us further into the dark side, the images of demons, vampires, and the like, things that the recesses of our mind like to dream up in their spare time, these images give form to the formless frights of our lives, our existential angst. And like the child in the night peering under the bed, in viewing these images, we can relax, and think "Ahhh, its only a blood-sucking vampire—I can deal with that. Ahhh, its only a brain-eating zombie—I can deal with that." But what we can't deal with is the all-pervasive anxiety that gnaws at our minds, chomping and chewing away every little bit of sanity we have left.
Creating gothic art makes me happy because it gives form to my greatest fears, allows me to see them for what they are, imaginary in some cases, the truth of the human condition in others. And being able to make the distinction between things as they appear and things as they are gives me a clarity and a knowing that cuts through any confusion that I have and lets me sit on the honey-coated razor's edge of the present moment, balancing precariously between light and dark, good and evil, resting in the here and now beyond labels, beyond form, beyond conceptualization of any kind.
It is here, in this bardo, this neverland of time, that true happiness resides, happiness without causes or conditions, contentment pure and true. So join me in that space beyond the niceities and horrors of the mind and see what you experience there. Visit the virtual homes of other gothic/fantasy artists, such as Myka Jelina, Charlene Murray Zatloukal, Jasmine Becket-Griffith and, of course, the infamous Tim Burton, and notice your own reaction to the dark arts.
To view more of my artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/FineArtAmerica.com. If you are interested in learning more about gothic art and culture, you can check out Gothic Beauty Magazine, sold locally at The Paper Chase on Blowers Street in Halifax.