The Importance of Skulls in Art Around the World

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Wondering if something as weird as skulls hold any importance in the art world or not? Scroll till the end of this article to find out.

One of the most important elements of the art world are symbols, here an object, no matter how simple it is represented, can evoke a societal issue, an emotion, or an entire story. For example, consider the heart. It’s just a simple shape, but it represents one of the world’s most important and valued emotions and feelings, known as love. Symbols become increasingly abstract over time as they change and transform with time, but their meanings remain relevant in history and our minds. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word “heart”? But this isn’t a heart-related article. This article is almost entirely about the absolute opposite of the heart; it is about skulls.

Skulls represent death almost all over the world. They’re an outright reminder to us of our mortality; they are one of the world’s most powerful symbols. However, while skulls give us a clear implication of death, they also have hundreds of other meanings around the world and, more frequently, in the art world. Skulls can represent wealth, power, strength, and protection in some places, but they can also represent transformation and change in others. As humans, we easily assign meaning to objects to improve our understanding of the world and also create “shortcuts” in our brains to make sense of everything around us.

Still, feeling that skulls are an alien concept in the creative spectrum? Read until the end of this piece to find out why they aren’t.

They Can Be Used To Celebrate The Dead
Skulls or skull-based art can be used to pay respect to the dead. If you want to do so for your close ones who are dead, you can easily do it by taking the Skull Drawing Tutorial from artincontext.org. Moreover, if you’re feeling weird in doing so, wondering if you’re the only one doing this, let me tell you, you’re not. Because in Mexico, to commemorate the dead, they decorate their skulls in garnish colors and patterns. Also, they celebrate the annual Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On this day, families come together to dress up, party and remember those who have died.

Sugar skulls, as they’re known, are seasonal symbols. While the festival takes place, decorated skulls are positioned around the gravestones of the dead to create decorations that celebrate death rather than mourn the loss of family and friends.

Sugar skulls were originally made of molded sugar and decorated with bright feathers, beads, and icing; that’s how they got their name. They are now made of various materials, but their design remains consistent, distinguished by the abundance of flowers, bright colors, and intricate detailing around the eyes and mouths.

Skull-based Art Portrays Change and Transformation
Death is not the end of life for many cultures around the world. In reality, it’s just the next step in the story, after which there are many other options. Many believe that death is just the beginning of a new life. This notion is also supported by many religions. Like it is said in almost every major religion like Islam, Christianity, etc that you`ll live a life of comfort or hardship in heaven or hell depending on actions in this life.

This is also believed by the Mexicans, which explains why Dia de Los Muertos is a fun festival that celebrates life rather than mourning death, as is common in much of the Western world. In this case, death represents a climactic turning point in the life story, which is exactly what the skull represents in the Death Tarot card.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Tarot cards, but it’s interesting to see how the skull symbol is used in this context, not just as a piece of art but also as a traditional symbol representing something not so “Traditional”.

Skull-based Decorations are simply macabre and quirky
The symbolic meaning of skulls has shifted a lot over time, and it is now a “cool” thing to be tattooed on forearms, splashed across t-shirts, and painted on printed decorative items. In these cases, the image of the skull could represent something entirely different to both the person who wears it and who sees it. For many, it’s simply a fashionable decorative feature, similar to a flower or a geometric pattern.

Damien Hirst’s diamond skull is the biggest example of the skull’s rise as a fashion statement. However, it has also been used as a medium to create other patterns, as seen in Sasha Vinogradova’s work. She uses skulls as a canvas to display Russian artistic styles – the skulls are almost an afterthought, adding a macabre undertone to otherwise playful pieces.

Skulls continue to hold a significant symbolic significance around the world, and I do not doubt that we will continue to see their newer forms appear in a wide range of art forms. That’s the beauty of the creative industry because the idea is that familiar forms can be used to tell new, sometimes alien stories based on their societal context and the creators’ personal experiences.

Take, for example, Georgia O’Keeffe, who used a universal symbol to tell her own story. O’Keeffe discovered hundreds of cow and horse skulls in the desert after relocating to New Mexico. She brought them home and began painting them, immortalizing them in ways that would have been impossible in real life.

Lastly, I would say skulls have been an integral part since the beginning of human history. We can see evidence of that everywhere. Nowadays, modern-day artists are also embracing it as an integral part of art. So if you want to join the newest art revolution then you should also embrace this new form of art. I hope this article helped you understand the importance of skulls in art all over the world.

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